San Antonio Spurs (29-14) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (23-24)
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Last game: Minnesota: W, 97-93 vs Golden State, San Antonio: L, 106-99 vs Dallas
Minnesota absolutely needed to beat Golden State to keep their playoff hopes alive on Monday, and at halftime, they looked to be in good shape. The Wolves led by 14 and were playing active, enthusiastic defense, holding the Warriors to just 35 first half points. But the Warriors nearly matched that total in the 3rd, scoring 32, and pulling themselves back into the game. Fortunately, Minnesota has Kevin Love and Golden State doesn’t. Love’s 36 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter, vaulted the Wolves to a big win.
The Spurs lost to their inter-state rivals on Monday, the Mavericks. San Antonio was, unsurprisingly, unable to contain Dirk Nowitzki, who put up a typically enormous night with 27 points. Tim Duncan and Danny Green led the Spurs with 17 points apiece. San Antonio is second in the Western Conference, 2.5 games ahead of the Lakers.
The Key Questions
#1. How much of a difference does Ricky Rubio make to this team?
This is a question with an obvious answer: Rubio makes an enormous difference, both to the performance and morale of the Wolves. But tonight will be a good measuring stick of how much better Minnesota is with Rubio. The Wolves beat San Antonio twice this year when Rubio was playing. Will they be able to win three in a row even with Rubio sitting out?
(Hint: Don’t put money on it.)
#2. Oh dear Lord, Darko is going to start another game?
Yes, Pekovic’s absence could be reason for despair, but remember! Darko only played six minutes against the Kings! Adelman will likely play a smaller lineup with several different centers guarding San Antonio’s large duo of Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Center by committee is still better than center by Darko.
Also, if you are looking for a little encouragement, when these teams met in early January, Pekovic didn’t play and Rubio only had 3 assists. The Wolves still won! The Spurs weren’t playing like world-beaters at the time and they were discouraged because Manu had just broken his hand, plus the Wolves shot something like 90% in the game from the field, but still!
#3. Do you even want to know the playoff picture at this point?
The good news is that Phoenix lost to the Heat while the Wolves beat the Warriors! The bad news is that Houston beat the Lakers (!!) and the Jazz beat the Thunder (!!!!). That was the most perfect two-day stretch for Minnesota to gain some ground. Instead, the Wolves remain exactly where they were. If all of Minnesota’s playoff rivals could play the Heat every night, and if the Wolves could play Golden State every night, we might be in business.
The Key Matchups
Tony Parker has been playing some of his best basketball ever this season. His PER is the second highest in his career, his turnover percentage is the third lowest while his usage rate is the second highest, and he is putting up a full assist more per 36 minutes than any other year. Though Luke Ridnour has been playing well himself since taking over Rubio’s role as point guard (9.1 assists per game, 10.6 subtracting the Sacramento crap-salad), Ridnour will have his hands full against Parker.
Kevin Love has (obviously) been torrid lately. DeJuan Blair, though an admirable player, simply doesn’t have the length to bother Love if he starts hitting with any kind of range. Tonight could be big for Kevin Love.
One interesting subtraction for San Antonio: Richard Jefferson, who torched the Wolves for 16 points in their first meeting.
As previously mentioned, both of Minnesota’s wins against San Antonio this season came with Rubio in the lineup, but both also came on Minnesota’s court. Tonight, they face the Spurs in San Antonio. Chances of a win without Rubio seem remote, especially given San Antonio’s 17-4 home record.
Game starts at 7:30 on Fox Sports North