Minnesota Timberwolves (0-3) vs Dallas Mavericks (1-3)[table "1" not found /]
Last game: Timberwolves: L, 103-101 vs Miami; Dallas: L, 104-102 vs OKC
Based off Minnesota’s play so far this year, it feels a little unfair to be staring at that “0-3″ after their name. But after dropping yet another close game to yet another title contender, the nicest thing that can be said about Minnesota’s season so far is this: Minnesota’s three losses were by a combined nine points.
Dallas is also coming into tonight’s game off of a painful loss, and they can probably claim anguished bragging rights. Playing rival Oklahoma City on the road, Dallas took the lead with just over a second left in the game when Vince Carter drained a go-ahead three. But Kevin Durant spotted up from several feet behind the three point line and buried the game winning dagger deep in the Mavericks’ collective chest.
That Durant guy is pretty good.
The Key Questions
#1. Is Dallas back on form?
In the first two games, Dallas looked awful. They looked lazy, complacent and out of shape. Pick a negative adjective, and Dallas probably covered it thoroughly. But the Mavs looked better against Oklahoma City, despite the tough loss.
What’s been different for Dallas thus far? The defense. Dallas has been giving up 102.5 points per game, 27th in the league. This is a team that clearly misses their defensive identity, recently departed center Tyson Chandler. Kevin Love may be able to capitalize on Chandler’s absence inside.
#2. Can Minnesota clean up their turnovers?
Somehow, I doubt this will be the last time this question is asked. After taking care of the ball well in the opener against Oklahoma City, just 12 TOs to go with 22 total assists, the Wolves turned the ball over 25 times against both Milwaukee and Miami. 25 possessions in which the Wolves couldn’t even get a shot off. In games decided by three points or less, that’s a pretty big deal.
Obviously, it’s understood that part of the territory with Rubio is his risky decisions, and that’s what makes him a fun/special player. But being careless with the ball may have cost the Wolves a couple of games, and it needs to be cleaned up a bit.
#3. Will Barea be able to play?
JJ Barea sat out against Miami with a strained hamstring, but he also said that it was feeling much better, so hopefully he will be able to play tonight. It would be great (and a little disconcerting) to see him in action against his old teammates in Dallas.
The Key Matchups
Minnesota’s matchups remain difficult to pinpoint, since everything is currently in flux. When will Rubio start? Will Kevin Love be playing center or power forward? Derrick Williams or Michael Beasley?
Guarding Dirk remains a huge challenge (ANALYSIS!). Love isn’t nearly long enough to challenge Dirk’s trademark shots, and Darko can’t come close to contesting Dirk’s range. Neither Beasley nor Williams is sufficiently…(how can I put this nicely)…good at defense. It might come down to Anthony Tolliver for the second straight game to guard the best opposing player.
Jason Terry is undersized but effective. Wes Johnson is oversized and ineffective. Life is unfair sometimes.
With both teams, the individual matchups themselves aren’t going to be what decide this game. For Minnesota, taking care of the basketball, making clutch shots (especially free throws), and playing solid defense will be key. Dallas needs to move the ball quickly around the perimeter the way they did last season to be effective.
Honestly, this is a winnable game. While Dallas is still the defending champs, they are also aging quickly, and they seem complacent this year. While both teams will be rested, Minnesota will have the benefit of a rejuvenated home crowd and the energy of a young team hungry for a win.
Of course, it would also be ignorant to write off this Dallas team based on four games. While Minnesota is younger, more athletic, and playing at home, most of Dallas’ core has played together for years.
Best case scenario: the Mavericks come out flat and the Wolves come out guns blazing. Minnesota takes it to the defending champions, getting a much needed confidence booster against a good Western Conference team.
Worst case scenario: the Mavericks rediscover their spark against Minnesota and send the young Wolves to a discouraging 0-4 start, with more tough games on the way (San Antonio visits the Target Center Monday, Memphis on Wednesday).
One last downer of a thought. There is only one other team in the NBA who hasn’t won a game yet: Washington. Admittedly, Washington has lost to Atlanta, New Jersey and Milwaukee, whereas the Timberwolves have lost to Miami, OKC and, well, Milwaukee, but the Wizards aren’t exactly good company to be keeping.