Gameday: Raptors @ Timberwolves, March 9

It feels like the Wolves are the better team, so thank Shamgod for the Eastern Conference.

The 34-26 Raptors kick off a tough road back-to-back on Sunday night at 7 p.m. against the 31-30 Timberwolves on Sportsnet One. I know, I know, everyone’s going to be watching whatever they call the Geminis these days, but the game will still take place. From there, it’s off to Brooklyn for a relatively important road game on Monday against the Nets.

One day at a time, though, so let’s break down Kevin Love and company. When Minnesota visited in mid-January, the Raptors surprised with a 94-89 victory, holding Kevin Love to 7-of-19 shooting in the process, one of his worst outings of the season. Maybe it was the camo jerseys. Maybe he was out too late at Les Mis the night before. Whatever the case, it’s unlikely Love has another bad outing and it’s equally unlikely the Wolves go ice-cold from long range again. The work is cut out for the Raps.

To help set the stage, I emailed with bad-movie expert, monocle-owner and brother in beards Zach Harper of CBS Eye on Basketball and A Wolf Among Wolves.

While the Wolves don’t allow in inordinate amount of close looks, they do surrender the league’s highest opponent FG% within five feet. Is that a result of exploitable individual post defenders or more a lack of help defense being unable to cover when penetrators get past the first defender?

Their pick and roll defense has been really poor this year because they’re not stopping dribble penetration in that second level of the defense. They allow the initiator to get too deep into the middle of the defense and then it’s either a layup or it’s a dump down. The post defense has been good enough this season. The weird thing is the fouling situation. Pekovic and Love simply don’t foul guys. With Love it’s a concerted effort not to foul and he’ll end up not contesting shots to avoid fouls.

It’s a strategy that keeps their foul rate down (I think they’re best in the league at that) which helps their defensive rating overall. But ultimately it makes the defense look bad and causes them to look like saloon doors around the basket.

If the 2013-14 Wolves season were a movie, what movie would it be?

The Wolves would be the movie Snake Eyes. Snake Eyes had all of the components of a great movie. Nic Cage was a big star at the time, Gary Sinise is a brilliant actor. Carla Gugino is ridiculously hot. You’ve got a great storyline of a conspiracy and needing to break down why a murder happened and who is involved with all kinds of plot twists.

And yet it simply doesn’t work. It’s a very rewatchable and entertaining movie. You’re not mad that you experience it. But you walk away from it thinking, this just needs to be more.

While rare, Kevin Love does, occasionally, have an off night on the offensive end. Are those just cold shooting nights, or is there something specific defenses can exploit to try and shut him down?

Love had 19 points against the Knicks the other night in a loss and just looked terrible. He short-armed some shots in the post and admitted after the game that he simply didn’t feel right with the ball in his hands. That it felt weird. Anybody who has played basketball knows that feeling can happen. But there are things a defense can do to get him off his game.

The key is being physical with Love when the refs aren’t calling a lot of fouls. Love thrives on having space for outside shots and getting to the free throw line. There are times when guys like Amir Johnson play Love extremely physical and if he’s not getting the calls, he has a hard time adjusting his game. He’s better about it this season but it’s still an occasional issue.

Ricky Rubio famously told Alexey Shved to change his face. If you could have any two NBA players switch faces in a Face-Off experiment, whose faces would you switch?

JJ Barea and Andre Miller. It would be really tough because you really need to change their bodies and especially their asses. Miller’s ass is a huge weapon for him on the court because he knows how to use it to create space. Barea is good at creating space for shots inside but he really needs as much space as possible to be effective. Also he could be a better decision maker. Ideally, Miller would be their backup point guard.

True or False: The Wolves would be the 3-seed in the Eastern Conference?

True. If you look at a lot of the advanced team numbers, the Wolves are like the 13th best team in the NBA. Unfortunately 10 of those teams ahead of them are in the West. Put them in the Central or the Atlantic and they’d feast on the weaker competition, licking up the 3-seed in a season like this. But unfortunately they’re in the West and they just don’t have quite enough to be what they need to be out there.

Vegas says: Wolves by 4.5 with 57 percent of the action going their way; 60 percent like the over at 206.5
Hollinger says: Wolves by 3.5
Minnesota’s finest rock export, Soul Asylum, says: Say what you will, Clarnece…Karl sold the truck

Blake says: Zach’s point about bodying up Love is an important one, and the Raptors are in a good position to try and do so. Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough can try and bang with him, and even Chuck Hayes is an option, though he’d be in trouble if Love put the ball on the floor. Offensively, getting Patrick Patterson involved should prove helpful, forcing Love to either work or give up on late contest situations, which 2-Pat can help provide with his abilities in the pick-and-roll.

Not to focus everything on one player, but Love’s obviously the key. Kyle Lowry had a strong game last time, though it was mostly due to hot shooting rather than exploiting the lack of a second layer of defense. DeMar DeRozan can’t settle for mid-range shots like he did in their last meeting, and he can take a lesson from Terrence Ross, who attacked well against this defense.

There are ways to exploit what the Wolves don’t do well, is what I’m saying. However, I’m feeling pessimistic this morning, and I’m giving the Wolves a seven-point edge. This is a science, obviously, and that number was carefully crafted, not at all determined by how many pancakes I plan on eating.

To Top