Gameday: T’Wolves @ Raptors, Feb. 14

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The Wolves have lost 4 straight, 6 of 7, and 13 of 16. More generally they’re 6-20. They serve as bounce back material ahead of tonight’s matchup in Tampa Bay. The Raptors are coming off yet another loss against the Celtics, a team that is quickly becoming something of a mountain to overcome and a milestone on the path to contention. The Raptors have been competitive against the Celtics but continually fall short. It’s somewhat impressive that they’ve been able to go toe-to-toe with Boston given their dire situation at center. Having Chris Boucher be their best big by a distance wasn’t something that was in anyone’s pre-season scenarios but despite that they’ve remained competitive.

Any evaluation of the roster thus far must conclude that this unit isn’t that far from making a dent in the post-season, but for their big man play. Leaving the superstar sweepstakes aside, it’s prudent to scan the market to see if the Raptors can get any sort of cover at C by parlaying the likes of Terence Davis and Matt Thomas to name a couple. Thomas isn’t necessarily seen as a trade chip given that he hasn’t played much but a dead-eye shooter who doesn’t need time to warm up is something of desired commodity in the league. We tend to lock in on Norm Powell as trade bait in any such talk but perhaps guys like Yuta Watanabe can be sold while their stock is high? I know, eh, sacrilege!

KAT is the featured attraction on the T’Wolves but #1 pick Anthony Edwards has been the one catching the headlines of late. He’s had 20+ points in three of the last four games, including 21 points in his matchup against fellow rookie LaMelo Ball. He’s probably going to be matched up against Norm Powell who I would imagine should just start permanently. There’s enough empirical evidence to suggest that he feels more comfortable as a starter, and given that OG’s play isn’t affected by whether he starts or not, it seems like a zero-cost decision.

The T’Wolves best defender is Josh Okokie. The 6’4“ guard could very well offer some problems for Fred VanVleet who is just coming off a nightmarish performance against Jayson Tatum. This is Freddy’s hill to climb. He’s going to see more and more of these matchups as his play and reputation elevates, and we’re going to see opposing team’s prioritize Fred in their defensive plans, perhaps even ahead of Pascal Siakam at times. Given VanVleet’s history of overcoming obstacles you wouldn’t bet against him for finding his way through this, though it might take some time for him to get proficient at the range he needs to be hitting threes at  to overcome the length he faces.

On the flip side, the Wolves guards can’t seem to stop anyone. They’re bottom third in defense and have allowed big games to opposing guards all year. The Raptors are likely to get their offense fairly easily tonight. The bookies sure think so by placing the Raptors as a 10 point favorite.

The games’s at 7PM on Sportsnet. We’ll have the post-game show live after the final whistle along with the usual goodies.

I’ll leave you with KAT speaking to The Athletic on how Covid impacts him. Recall that he’s lost seven family members to Covid.

“We’re kind of going in there hoping that everyone’s healthy and safe and has followed the protocols and the rules,” Towns said. “Even if they do, this virus, this disease doesn’t have a place where it doesn’t work, where it doesn’t affect anybody. You could get it anywhere, any time. You just hope. You go in there and you just hope. Even for a person like me who had the antibodies and I guess you could say is immune to it now, it still registers differently in my mind.”

Towns said earlier this week that he thinks it should be up to everyone to make their own decisions about playing basketball during a pandemic. But when he was confronted with the virus so soon after his return from a hiatus, it put a pit in his stomach that was there with him for most of the first half of a 120-114 loss to the Hornets.

“I know it was a few minutes before the game, but I couldn’t think about basketball,” he said. “I’m thinking about the health of these guys, especially my own guys. We’re a family. We may be wearing different jerseys and oppositions on the court, but at the end of the day, when we step off that court we’re a family, we’re a brotherhood. We have to look out for each other.”

Towns scored 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting with five rebounds in the first half, but he looked sluggish and was just 1-for-6 in the first quarter. His feet were stuck in cement, which could have been attributed to this being his second game back and still working to get his conditioning back. But he said he was struggling a lot more mentally because of the revelations about the Hornets’ issues so close to game time. His head wasn’t in it, and it took a halftime phone call to his father to settle him down and get him refocused.

“I had to talk to him. He was just kind of giving me advice,” Towns said. “I needed it at that moment, especially with leading these guys. I was glad that I was able to go back out there with a different mindset. But the first half, that really bothered me, and it led to me not playing at all well and it just zapped me a lot. It zapped my energy, it zapped my mentality, it zapped my soul a little bit.”

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