Eventful few days in the NBA with two teams losing key roster pieces to injury and Monday’s shocking trade which sent reverberations throughout the Association. The aftermath of these occurrences emphasizes just how quickly situations can change. No team should be responding with a knee jerk reaction as presumably season performance and long term goals are driving agendas.
Including today there is ten days remaining until the February 8th trade deadline. Top tier squads will attempt to shore up depth. Teams fighting to cement post season berths will be seeking core talent to push them forward. Lottery bound clubs or ones on the periphery of the playoffs could emulate the Clippers and shed talent to jump start a rebuild. Ultimately teams on the upper side of these segments seek proven assets whereas the lower tier’s goal is to position their franchise with quantity and quality picks heading to the 2018 draft.
Two teams firmly entrenched in the upper segment are the Toronto Raptors and tonight’s opponent, the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Raptors sit second in the east (Nuggets came close to changing that narrative) with a four game cushion on the Cavaliers. Minnesota has teetered back and forth between the third and fourth west seed, but has lost three of four including a surprising loss to the Hawks last night. Additionally, a streaking OKC Thunder squad (eight wins in a row) sits a half game back in fifth.
Second Meeting in 10 Days:
Given the Raptors played the Wolves just ten days ago I won’t do my typical game day, deep dive. Why re-invent the wheel when Blake did such a stellar job? Here is Blake’s pregame for those who missed it the first time.
In the first meeting the Raptors finished their back to back set in Minneapolis following a gutsy win over the San Antonio Spurs. Despite the Wolves missing Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford the Raptors couldn’t capitalize losing steam as the match progressed.
In review of the loss three specific areas could be cited as the reason for the Raptors loss.
Clean that glass:
The Wolves annihilated the Raptors on the boards (58-41) in the first meeting especially on the offensive glass (15-8). This resulted in multiple second chance scoring opportunities for Minnesota.
Defend without fouling:
It was an odd game of whistles with both squads big men spending ample time on the bench after picking up fouls in quick succession. Jonas Valanciunas got nailed for four fouls in 11 minutes and Karl-Anthony Towns picked up three quick fouls rendering him bench bound for most of the first half.
The third quarter was particularly damaging as the Wolves got to the charity stripe 16 times which resulted in Minnesota erasing the Raptors eight point half time lead to take a three point lead into the final frame. By night’s end the Wolves doubled the Raptors trips to the line (42-21).
Defending the half court:
Part of the above disparity can be placed on poor half court defense and failure to adequately stop Andrew Wiggins in the half court. Most of Wiggins damage occurred in the first half, but a better effort will be required tonight especially with Butler back in the mix.
Notably, this game was in the midst of a few where OG Anunoby appeared to have hit the rookie wall and subsequently wasn’t as quick on his lateral slides or defensive close outs. In the Lakers win Anunoby looked sharper and the rest seemed to pay tangible dividends.
- Marcus Georges-Hunt was a revelation for the Wolves scoring 12 points, five of which were attained via his eight free throws.
- Without Jimmy Butler or Jamal Crawford in the mix, Thibodeau was forced to use his bench more – something we all know Thibs isn’t naturally inclined to do. With the Wolves playing on a back to back he may be forced to utilize his reserves again tonight.
- Toronto outscored the Wolves 15-2 on fast break points
Heading into games on January 29, here's how all NBA rookies have fared in TPA throughout the 2017-18 season: pic.twitter.com/DEvYsvMAfK
— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) January 29, 2018
Although the Wolves personnel should logically dictate pushing pace they rank 23rd (07.85) in this department. Comparatively the Raptors rank ninth (100.81) in this category. Yet, Minnesota’s third ranked offense (110.7) seems to offset this argument. Still, with the Wolves playing on consecutive nights, it would be wise to push the pace offensively to capitalize on their fatigue factor.
Wolves Prefer Home Base:
One of the few areas the Wolves demonstrate their youth is the inability to win on the road. Their 12-15 mark highlights this point, however in January Minnesota have struggled mightily registering a 1-7 record in the month.
Team Curry vs. Dwane Casey:
An interesting side story is the two Wolves All-Stars (Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns) along with the Raptors All-Star backcourt are all members of Team Curry. With Dwane Casey and his coaching crew headed to LA, they’ll align on the opposite side of the court as Casey and co. will be tasked with managing Team LeBron.
Your 2017-18 NBA All-Stars. pic.twitter.com/4jf7jG0wZ8
— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) January 24, 2018
Dog Days Taking Toll:
If the loss of DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Roberson taught us anything, it’s that every team is hoping to get through these final eight to ten games until the break healthy. That doesn’t mean teams shouldn’t be aggressive or competitive, rather it highlights the importance of distributing minutes effectively since most studies show injuries often occur at a greater rate when a player is fatigued.
Based on recent performances both squads are demonstrating their fatigue and weariness with the Wolves losing five of their last eight games including losses to the Magic and Hawks. Four of those losses have been on the road.
Likewise the Raptors are 4-4 in their last eight games with the Sixers and Jazz games standing out as winnable contests which slipped away arguably due to focus or fatigue.
The Tim Horton (double-double) Matchup:
The proverbial light seems to have switched on (and brightly at that) for Jonas Valanciunas who is on a terror of late. His passing, prowess from behind the arc (I’m not kidding), rim protection and overall game is arguably the best Raptors Nation has ever witnessed. A scan of his past six games highlights five double-double performances with one glaring zero point performance (versus the Wolves).
Since Towns will be headed to LA, let’s hope JV channels his inner beast (sans the fouls) to remind Towns of his natural gifts.
Home Town Hero:
Much like most super team trios, one player generally has to adjust their game and become the third option. Initially, it seemed like Jimmy Butler (and Thibs) were content to let Towns and Wiggins be the one-two punch. That situation changed partially into the season with Butler taking over the primary option and clutch time role. Towns was naturally slotted into the secondary slot. Wiggins has adjusted fairly well as the guy who had to adapt, but I wonder how comfortable (or happy) he is being put in this position.
Throughout his professional career the one knock on Wiggins has been consistency and desire. Most pundits feel Wiggins doesn’t bring his natural talents to the court on a nightly basis and question his effort. With the addition of Butler the Wolves hoped his work ethic and approach to the game would rub off on the young Canadian.
Effort shouldn’t be a factor in this game since Wiggins is back in his home town and desirous of a win in front of friends and family; something which has eluded him in his three previous games at the ACC.
In the post game media scrums we’re often given snippets which point to team objectives. One of those is clearly not to lose three in a row which the Raptors have yet to do this season.
Scanning their schedule I wondered if another was not to lose to the same team twice. Although they did lose to the Warriors twice, no other team has accomplished this feat against Toronto all season, so presumably this will be one of Casey’s pre-game chalk board items.
Heading into games on January 29, how has your favorite NBA team fared on both ends of the floor throughout the 2017-18 season? pic.twitter.com/785HtP5tKR
— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) January 29, 2018
ASSIGNED TO G-LEAGUE (RAPTORS 905): Bruno Caboclo, Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller, Alfonzo McKinnie
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES STARTING 5:
Point Guard: *Jeff Teague
Shooting Guard: Andrew Wiggins
Small Forward: Jimmy Butler
Power Forward: Taj Gibson
Center: Karl-Anthony Towns
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES RESERVES:
Point Guard: Tyus Jones, Aaron Brooks
Shooting Guard: Jamal Crawford, Marcus Georges-Hunt
Small Forward:Shabazz Muhammad
Power Forward: Nemanja Bjelica
Center: Gorgui Dieng, Cole Aldrich
INJURED:*Teague has a sore ankle, but played through it versus the Hawks, so should be good to go this evening.
ASSIGNED TO G-LEAGUE (IOWA WOLVES): Justin Patton, Amile Jefferson, Anthony Brown
Jeff Teague has attempted more field goals than Karl-Anthony Towns in six of the Timberwolves' last nine games, after only doing so five times in the first 44 games of the season.
— David Naylor (@ProfCedar) January 30, 2018
Venue: Air Canada Center, Toronto, Ontario
Game Time: 7:30 PM ET
TV: TSN 4
Radio: Sportsnet 590 The FAN
The line: Raptors are favored by 6.5 with an over/under of 218 points.