Minnesota Timberwolves game previews between October 31 and November 6, including games against: Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder.
UPDATE: Ricky Rubio out indefinitely with sprained elbow; Kris Dunn welcome to the NBA .
A tough start for the Timberwolves. Out of the gate, the resurgent Wolves missed on two road opportunities in games against the Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings. Thibodeau’s stimulating presence included a revamped defense with fortified interior protection along with a display of high-energy defensive rotations, but that only brings so much. Between missed shots, broken on-ball defense, and a third-quarter catastrophe, the Wolves failed to capitalize on two hot starts and a depleted Grizzlies roster.
Tuesday, 1 November 2016 at 08:00 PM ET Home
Expect the Grizzlies to feature a similarly depleted roster. Parsons and Allen should remain sidelined, so in a rematch of last Wednesday will home-court advantage be the determining factor?
Strategically, the Wolves struggled to contain Conley, who hit multiple big shots to close the game. Rubio has historically struggled with the quicker small guard, but despite Kris Dunn’s defensive prowess, he is only two games deep into his NBA career. Thibodeau played them together in brief spurts in the first matchup—watch for how he manages his guard rotation on Tuesday with eyes to mitigate Conley.
Also keep an eye on the Grizzlies rotation. In Tony Allen’s absence, Kentucky alum Andrew Harrison has had a rough go. Fizdale will surely continue to start Harrison, but as the game grows tight look for Fizdale to resort to a veteran lineup. As the Wolves gradually appreciate into a game-winning machine, they will need to develop an identity in tightly contested matchups. The Grizzlies benefit from a recognizable veteran core—something the Wolves both want to develop and overcome in what they hope is a transitional season.
What to Watch For
- How will the Wolves counteract one of the shiftiest, and highest-paid, point guards in the NBA?
- After two wire-to-wire losses, can the Wolves string together a complete game and close out the home opener?
- Keep an eye on Gorgui Dieng. He’s off to a hot start and is expected to sign a big contract extension within the next 24 hours. Thibodeau reportedly is a big fan—let’s see if he can keep it up.
Thursday, 3 November 2016 at 08:00 PM ET Home
In the second Target Center matchup of the season, the Timberwolves play host to the Denver Nuggets. Denver is an eclectic team by NBA standards. They start European big men Nokic and Nurkic, in their first and second years respectively, point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who substituted a year of college with a season of professional Chinese basketball, 22-year-old Gary Harris at shooting guard, and Danilo Gallinari, a borderline All-Star at the wing position.
Between the four starters (excluding Gallinari) the Nuggets are primed for the long-term; moreover, Denver has surrounded its young talent with veterans like Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Mike Miller, Jameer Nelson, and Kenneth Faried. In theory, Denver should maintain a competitive balance while having the necessary veterans to mentor the youth.
However, while the Nuggets conventional approach depicts an ideal roster composition; seemingly the organization’s issue is a simple question of talent. How good is their youth, and how effective are their veterans?
While the Nuggets roster holds many parallels to the Wolves, Minnesota is commonly assumed NBA’s epitome of a rebuilt roster due to its talent level. However, the Nuggets are poised to coexist on a similar championship timeline as the Wolves. Thus poses the question: are the Wolves really better?
What to watch for
- Mudiay is a bullying point guard at 6’5 200 pounds. Rubio and Dunn are aggressive defenders with comparable size; look for the Wolves to frustrate Mudiay from the get go.
- This matchup is determinable through the big men matchup. Nurkic-Nokic and Kat-Dieng are two premier upcoming NBA frontcourts. Thursday will be a battle of the bigs.
- Note how LaVine handles defensive-minded Gary Harris. LaVine often struggles with intensive pressure, and Harris will do exactly that. As a Wolves fan, it would be relieving to see LaVine show maturity in his ability to play under control against a dominating defender.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Saturday, 5 November 2016 at 06:00 PM ET Away
The week concludes with the Wolves’ first trip to Oklahoma City. Despite Durant’s departure, the Thunder remain an intimidating team. The quartet of Adams, Sabonis, Kanter, and Ilyasova man the middle while Westbrook, Oladipo, and Roberson wreak havoc in the backcourt. The Thunder are as active as ever, matching size up front with athleticism elsewhere.
The Wolves must avoid growing rattled by the high pace-high pressure Thunder and work to exploit their glaring weaknesses. The Thunder are extremely top heavy in their reliance on Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams. Westbrook is relentless in the pick-and-roll with Adams, but beyond their two-man game, the Thunder are sparse.
While Rubio, KAT and Dieng will have their hands full defensively, the others will be free to be aggressive in playing off their man. Expect Thibodeau to abuse the Thunder’s wings by daring Roberson to shoot and attacking an often-spacey Oladipo on offense.
What to Watch For
- The sans-Durant Thunder persist as a threat in the Western Conference. MVP-favorite Westbrook and Kiwi-Adams (note: New Zealand, not Australia) have developed into an overbearing force prepared to take the West by storm. Can Thibodeau create a defensive game plan ingenious enough to contain these two?
- Specifically, look at the strategy Thibs employs to counteract Adams and who is matched as his frontcourt partner. The Thunder feature both a three-point threat at the four in Ilyasova and a back-to-the-basket option in Kanter. While thus far Dieng has been responsible for the rim-attached centers, Adams may be too overpowering for Dieng.
- Watch for an explosive matchup. Regardless of strategy, these are two athletic teams with current MVP candidate in Westbrook and a hopeful future MVP in Karl Anthony-Towns. Expect fireworks.