I caught my first Wolves game of the Rubio era yesterday; liked what I saw. They are a nice team, with some real solid pieces to build around: young point guard with all-star potential; elite power forward who does everything; and a young talented supporting cast. Even without their 2012 1st round pick, you could argue they are better positioned than the Raptors going forward; especially considering no one on the roster makes more than $6.5m (no bad contract imho).

I spoke with Benjamin Polk of A Wolf Among Wolves:

The Wolves seem like a nice, young, deep team in-spite of Khan’s best efforts; am I wrong?

You are not wrong. A few qualifiers on that though. First, although Kahn certainly has his fair share of bewildering moves (drafting Jonny Flynn chief among them), I don’t think he’s quite as terrible as he’s made out to be. When he replaced Kevin McHale, the team’s roster was a hot mess. Untangling it all would have driven the best of us to drink. Second, while people are feeling pretty good about them right now, they are still a wing scorer/defender and an actual (not Darko-holographic) big man away from being for real. If can can make that happen (without a ’12 first-round pick and without giving up anything serious) then you can color me impressed.

True or False: Rubio is the real deal.

That is true. Nobody passes like that by accident; the kid is seriously gifted. But: I’m still not convinced that his solid shooting isn’t an anomaly. If he regresses back down into the sub-40% range (where he was projected), he’ll be a lot easier to defend. Also, right now he has the second-worst turnover rate of any point guard in the top 30 (Mario Chalmers is worst). That’ll take some fixing.

Call the game.

Well, since both the Raptors and the Wolves are working on new identities under new coaches it’s still really hard for me to know who they are. Statistically, they’re pretty even so far–the Wolves have been a bit better defensively, while the Raps have been a bit better on O. But because I’m a blatant homer I’m gonna go with the Wolves, let’s say by five.

Match-ups

Point Guard
Both Ridnour and Rubio have been doing their damage from the perimeter this season. Yesterday against the Wizards, they took three shots inside of 9 feet between the two of them.  Now that we know how these guys score/operate, Calderon and Carter should be prepared, right? We may see some remnants of fatigue tonight with Calderon, and if the Raptors get into an early hole, don’t expect to see heavy minutes from him. Barbosa may even see some time at the point since Carter really can’t put in much more than 10 minutes himself. I’m just hoping Ridnour doesn’t have another career night against the Raptors; he always gets up to play us. Barea might see action tonight, but the guys been injured to start the season, so he wont be a huge factor given he wont be logging heavy minutes.
Edge: Even

Shooting Guard
DeMar hasn’t been helping himself at all the last couple games. I still stand by my assessment of him needing to get to the line more; three trips in the last two games is unacceptable. Both Ellington and Johnson are perimeter players who will make DeRozan pay if he gives them too much room to shoot. He needs to set the tone early, test the Wolves defense early, and be engaged from the onset, otherwise another 8pt 2reb performance is all we can hope for.
Edge: Even

Small Forward
By all rights, Beasley should be playing for the Raptors; why we passed on taking him back from Miami is beyond me. I’m asking because I’m interested to know what people think: would you rather have Beasley and Norris Cole or James Johnson and a trade exception that wont get used? Fortunately, Michael is injured and wont be dropping 31 on us tonight. Leaves a combination of Derrick Williams and Wesley Johnson for JJ, Butler and Forbes to deal with. Wont be quite as bad as it could have been, but with three games in three nights, we’re going to bear witness a lot of ugly.
Edge: Wolves

Power Forward
You’d be hard-pressed to name a better power forward than Kevin Love right now. Bargnani could actually do worse than look to him for some pointers on rebounding and putting himself in the right spots at the right time. Otherwise, I am really looking forward to this match-up. Love will have a hard time defending Bargnani off the bounce, but will give him more than a handful on the glass. Love should win the match-up and post somin’ nasty on the box score, but Bargnani will take back his. Whatever happens, I have a feeling that this game will be won on the wing.
Edge: Wolves

Center
Darko doesn’t play heavy minutes, and when he does, he doesnt leave much of a mark on the game. The guy will block a couple shots, grab a couple rebounds and score a couple from 3 feet; that’s it. The Wolves will go small ball whenever they can, making Magloire less useful than he already is. Amir should benefit against a smaller front court, but he still needs to show up and make things happen. This will be the least interesting match-up tonight.
Edge: Even

Injuries

Raptors
Linas Kleiza – Knee, Game-Time Decision

Timberwolves
MIchael Beasely – Foot; Out
Jose Juan Barea – Hamstring, Out
Malcolm Lee – Knee, Out

Keys to the Game

  1. Limit Kevin Love’s effectiveness on the boards: the Wolves are 2nd in the league in rebounds/game; have to box the guy out make him work for everything
  2. Control the pace: Raptors do much well when they slow the pace, and walk the ball up on offense. Getting into an up-and-down will do nothing but create space on the perimeter for the Wolves to shoot uncontested jumpers which they are good at hitting.
  3. Attack the paint: the Raptors went to the foul line 12 times against the Sixers; this is utterly unacceptable. You need to be able to get easy points on the board; have to take advantage of the athleticism our key-players have, and attack the defense off the bounce.
  4. No open looks: I’m not sure how much more of this I can take, but the Raptors do a great job of giving opposing teams clean looks at the rim from the perimeter. How many open shots did the Nets hit on Friday? …makes me crazy…

The Line

The gamblers have the Raptors as 3.5 point favourites with an over/under of 188. If the Raptors are to win a game over the next three, it will be tonight (we’ve never seen the Raptors play three games back-to-back-to-back, but it’s going to get very ugly come Wednesday). I hate to say it, but I’d bet against the line right now, and take the Wolves by 4. This is a team that walked into the Wizards house shorthanded, and beat them like they stole something.

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