Riding a three-game winning-streak, the San Antonio Spurs host the most dangerous .500 team in the league, as the Minnesota Timberwolves return to town tonight. The Spurs held off on December 13th, riding a 16-point fourth quarter from Manu Ginobili to steal a game late, 117-110. The Spurs used execution and experience down the stretch to outscore Minnesota 37-21.
Minnesota dominated much of that game behind 42 points from Kevin Love, but the lack of efficiency and execution down the stretch against San Antonio a month ago still illustrates the issues that a very talented Minnesota team faces. At times, the T'Wolves are one of the most exciting and dangerous teams in the league, despite an 18-18 record that would have them looking from the outside-in on the playoffs if the season ended today. Minnesota is second in the league in scoring, averaging 107.6 points per game. The T'Wolves are also in the top five in assists and rebounds per game, but Minnesota ranks 24th in points allowed per game.
Minnesota is the definition of inconsistent and a look at their recent schedule illustrates that point. The T'Wolves have alternated wins and losses for the past two weeks and are 3-2 in 2014 with wins over New Orleans, Philadelphia and Charlotte and losses to Oklahoma City and Phoenix. Minnesota hasn't won two-straight games since December 28th and the T'Wolves are coming off a Friday night win over Charlotte where center Nikola Pekovic scored 26 points to lead the way.
Minnesota is going to score points, so the goal for San Antonio is to score points back. Not having Tiago Splitter will be a killer in this matchup as the Spurs try to offset the Minnesota frontcourt of Love and Pekovic. The possibility of Manu Ginobili missing this game is also very real, just like the probability that San Antonio would have lost the first matchup with Minnesota without him.
This is a game where the San Antonio guards and wing players will need to attack the basket. As good as Love and Pekovic can be on the offensive glass, the duo is not a threatening presence on defense. Minnesota averages just 3.11 blocks per game. And the backcourt of Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin has trouble staying in front of opposing guards. Guys like Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Marco Belinelli should have matchup advantages on the offensive side of the court.
This game will come down to which team makes shots. Minnesota will likely have success on the offensive glass, but it will be San Antonio's ability to guard that will lead to a Spurs victory. Minnesota is inconsistent shooting the ball, but when it gets hot early, the T'Wolves are dangerous. In Friday's win over Charlotte, Minnesota shot 54.5 percent from the floor and 9-of-19 from behind the three-point line. That is well above their season averages. Keeping Minnesota in check from the perimeter may prove as important as keeping them off of the offensive glass.
Matchup to watch: Boris Diaw will need a big game for the Spurs to win this game without Splitter and Ginobili and it won't necessarily need to be a big game on the stat sheet. Minnesota is going to attack the glass and try to get second-chance points all night on the offensive end, especially if shots aren't falling from outside. Diaw isn't going to out-athletic many people, but he'll need to play sound fundamental defense and block out for San Antonio to have a chance to out-execute Minnesota down the stretch.
The perspective of T-wolves fans can be found here: Canis Hoopus
Game Prediction: Spurs by 4.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.
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