San Antonio Spurs (3-1) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (1-3)
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The Wolves got win #1 last night and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Some believe they could’ve/should’ve started the year off with four straight victories based on their newly improved play, but I’m just grateful they got one. Not to mention that lone victory came against the defending world Champs from Dallas.
But now it’s time to take on Texas’ other basketball powerhouse: the Spurs. Say all you want about the Spurs but their still one of the West’s best due to their experience — this team’s been around the block more than once.
The Key Questions:
#1. Can the “old guys” from San Antonio last four quarters with the Wolves?
With the Timberwolves finally playing great basketball, it’s actually unbelievable that they’re just as young as they’ve been in the last five years. The youth and inexperience has always been an issue for the rebuilding Wolves until this year. Now we’re seeing fresher legs come onto the court and make huge impacts. Ricky Rubio, Anthony Randolph and Anthony Tolliver all have played extensive minutes from the bench in the last two games, giving starters a serious breather, but it also gives them a chance to catch a rhythm and remind coach Rick Adelman to just leave the hot-hands in the game.
I have a hard time believing that Tim Duncan will be getting up-and-down the court all night, chasing the likes of Randolph and Tolliver around. That could be a serious advantage.
#2. How’s the home crowd going to react to back-to-backs?
The home crowd has been damn impressive thus far this year; thanks to Kevin Love and Rubio, professional basketball has become relevant yet again in the Twin Cities. Both the Oklahoma City and Miami games were nearly sold out and over 15,000 showed up to last night’s tilt. I’m curious to see how many/who is going to show up tonight.
The Spurs aren’t what I consider a hot commodity to see, so the Target Center could look as dreary as it ever has this season. The Wolves’ player visibly fed off of the fans’ energy last night, which I like to believe sparked that 15-0 run at the end of the fourth against Dallas. Young players play with more emotion and rabid fans just fuel the fire. Hopefully we can scrounge up enough to get the job done tonight.
#3. Will Darko Milicic see the second half?
Last night, Darko didn’t get to play in the entire second half. It’s a shame, really; he put up good numbers in the first against Dallas and played good defense on Haywood and Nowitzki. I scratched my head as to why — Maybe he got hurt; maybe Adelman didn’t like his chances of continuing his good play. Whatever the reason, the Wolves are going to need Darko for more than 25 minutes tonight.
The Spurs boast a solid frontcourt in Tim Duncan and Dejuan Blair. Odds are that Darko sticks to Duncan to start the game off, and hopefully can prevent him from getting in the swing of the offense early just as Nowitzki failed to do last night. But it’s also the at least the start of the second half where the Wolves could use his presence to not allow Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili to do what they do best: get to the rim. Darko is our one presence in the paint that can swat buzzards like those two away and the Wolves will need extensive and productive minutes from him tonight.
The Key Matchups
Like I already said, I believe Darko could be key in tonight’s game. The Wolves need his interior defense to do a variety of chores including limiting Duncan’s post shots, keeping Blair out of the lane for put-backs (Love will do a majority of that) and keeping the two guards, Parker and Ginobili, out of the lane.
Beyond Darko, the most interesting matchup is going to be Rubio on Parker. Rubio extends his streak of playing against some of the NBA’s best at the point with this matchup. Parker has certainly lost a step over the years but it’ll be interesting to see if Rubio can keep himself in front of Parker on the defensive end.
I’m also excited to see Tolliver’s repeat performance. He held Nowitzki to a poor shooting night with great all-around defense and also nailed some pretty big three-pointers. He’ll be seeing a lot of Duncan and perhaps some of Richard Jefferson depending on Michael Beasley’s status.
The Wolves have another great chance to steal a big game and impress the home crowd tonight. The Spurs are anciently old while the Wolves are vibrantly young. The Wolves have a good advantage coming off the bench led by Rubio that continues to spark the team.
Watch for when the reserves come in late first to the beginning of the second quarters; there should be an explosion of offense and the crowd will get into the thick of things much more. It’s going to be those moments where our fresh legs off the bench going up against the old, weary legs of San Antonio that the Wolves can make their move, just like they did against Dallas. If that happens, the Wolves could find themselves with a big lead, coasting to the finish.
But I don’t want to be overly optimistic. Never count out the poise of a veteran team. To compare one last time to last night’s Dallas game, the Mavs looked like they were down and out when a sudden surge of scoring put them behind just two in the fourth. These veteran squads have been there, done that, and understand what it means to stage a comeback in the NBA. And when you get a young team like the Wolves on the ropes, it can be really easy to push them over the top and hail victorious. It just goes to say that the Wolves need to come in, stick to their game plans and let Adelman do the coaching, likely utilizing our bench to expose weaknesses.