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Utah Jazz (9-5) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (7-8)
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Last game: Minnesota: W, 101-98 vs Los Angeles Clippers, Utah: 94-91 vs Dallas Mavericks
Do we have to move on already? The Wolves won their third consecutive game in dramatic fashion last night as Kevin Love hit a three at the buzzer. Darko Milicic inexplicably scored 22 points on 10-15 shooting, and the Wolves battled their way back from a double digit third quarter deficit to secure the win.
The Jazz also battled back, but came up just short against the hot Mavericks, falling 94-91. Former Timberwolf Al Jefferson led the way for the Jazz with 22 points, and Utah fell to 9-5 on the season.
Injury report: Minnesota: Barea out (ankle), Beasley out (foot) plus the usual suspects. Utah: Josh Howard out (quad)
The Key Questions
#1. Will there be hangover from last night for the Timberwolves?
You may have heard that Minnesota had a pretty dramatic game last night. In the second biggest city in the nation, against one of the most hyped teams in the NBA, on ESPN for the first time in years, the Wolves spent the entire game battling back before Love hit his shot. It would be understandable if the Wolves came out a little flat against the Jazz.
But this is the NBA, and more importantly, this is the NBA in 2012. The games are packed together, and after every big win, there’s another big game lurking around the corner. Minnesota will need to shake off the afterglow (but not the confidence gained) from such a big win, turn around, and try to knock off a surprisingly good Jazz team who are currently in 5th in the Western Conference.
Speaking of which…
#2. How are the Jazz so good this year?
Utah has played quite a few games so far this season in Salt Lake City. 9 at home, 5 away to be exact, which happens to directly coincide with their record of 9-5. They have only beaten three truly quality teams, Philadelphia, Denver, and the Clippers.
That’s not to say that Utah can’t be a good team when they are playing other good teams. The front court trio of Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Derrick Favors have developed some really good chemistry, and Gordon Hayward has made some really big strides as well.
They also have a very deep bench of role players, which makes them dangerous on consecutive nights.
Speaking of which…
#3. What have we learned about the Timberwolves so far this year on the second night of a back to back?
Remember how we all made a big deal about how good the Timberwolves would be on the second night of back to backs before the season started?
Those were nice times. The Timberwolves are now 1-4 on the second consecutive night of basketball. Their one win was against San Antonio on some of the hottest shooting we’ve seen from them. Some of the losses? Toronto and Milwaukee, as well as a blown game against Atlanta.
This doesn’t bode well for tonight’s game. The Wolves will have to rely on the same contributors from last night to have a big impact tonight, given the injuries to Barea and Beasley. So let’s talk about those contributors. (Also about the fact that I’m KILLING my transitions today.)
The Key Matchups
At the risk of sounding too punch-drunk after Love drained a very deep three to win the game last night, Love’s range very well might bother his defenders tonight. Neither Millsap nor Jefferson is particularly suited to guarding the three point line. Derrick Favors got a shot at Love last season in Utah and Minnesota’s final matchup, and he played decently, scoring 13 points, but he allowed Love to score 22.
Al Jefferson is going to get Darko to foul out within 15 minutes. I’m calling this one right now. Jefferson relies on a fairly wide array of pump fakes, and Darko bites on EVERY SINGLE PUMP FAKE IN THE HISTORY OF MAN. Ugh.
I feel like Devin Harris’ size and athleticism would cause some serious problems for Rubio if Harris hadn’t seemingly forgotten how to play good basketball this year.
The Jazz have a lot of young players coming off the bench, including two rookies: Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. I’m a fan of Burks, who is very proficient in turnovers, unfortunately (2.0 per game), but is a decent shooter for a rookie (42%, but steadily improving). Kanter will grab a lot of rebounds, but he is unathletic in every way save strength.
Someone on Twitter pointed out yesterday that tonight’s game is win-win for the Wolves (and if you are reading this, hit me up on Twitter so I can credit you…) because if the Wolves win, they go to .500 on the season, but the more the Jazz win, the better the chance that Minnesota gets a first round pick this year, since the Wolves own Utah’s lottery protected first pick. So there’s that. Optimism!
I’ll be honest: I’m not feeling this game. The back to back thing is killing me. But it’s tough to pick against a team that did what the Wolves did against the Clippers, and as much as I’ve enjoyed watching the Jazz so far this year, I’m not a believer in Utah quite yet.
Hopefully tonight doesn’t do much to change my mind.
Game starts at 8 pm on League Pass