San Antonio Spurs @ Minnesota TimberwolvesMexico City Arena, Mexico City
December 4, 2013, 8:30 PM Spurs Time
TV: FSSW - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
A red-hot start to the season has San Antonio still tied with Portland on top of the Western Conference, despite losing two out of their last four. San Antonio bounced back from a loss to Houston with a last-second victory over Atlanta on Monday where Tim Duncan capped off a resurgent 20-20 stat-line with a game-winning jumper. Even if the Spurs lose that game and drop three out of four, there would be no need to panic. And with Timmy calming concerns of his perceived drop-off in play, the greatest criticism of the team so far this season might be behind it as well.
San Antonio takes on Minnesota tonight, with a weekend matchup against Indiana looming on the horizon. The T-Wolves are a deceptively dangerous 9-10 team, capable of putting up points in bunches. They rank in the top-10 in points per game (3rd), assists (8th) and rebounds (7th). What's been their issue, however, is closing out games, as their porous fourth-quarter defense and sloppy offensive play have caused a number of wins to slip away down the stretch.
On the flip side, Minnesota is one of the more enjoyable teams to watch in the league and should put on a good show for the spectators in Mexico City. The T-Wolves have a relative "Big 3" of Kevin Love, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic. As those three go so does Minnesota. Love is again having an All-Star season at power forward, leading Minnesota with 23.7 points and 13.6 rebounds a game. He can crash the boards and stretch teams out behind the three-point line. He's also a willing and able passer (especially on outlets), collecting over four assists a game. That all adds up to a blistering 25.8 PER.
After failing as the replacement for James Harden in OKC, Martin has landed on his feet with the T-Wolves, starting at shooting guard and scoring 23.2 points per game. Minnesota shoots just 33 percent from behind the three-point line, but Martin is one of the reasons opponents have to respect them from behind the arc, as Minnesota averages nearly eight three-pointers made per game.
One of the pleasant surprises for Minnesota has been the continued development of Pekovic at center. He's coming off one of his best games as a pro, against OKC, and is averaging over 15 points and eight rebounds a game. Partnering with Love in the middle makes Minnesota one of the more dangerous offensive rebounding teams in the league.
Ricky Rubio is known for his flash, but he's learning how to become a better NBA point guard even if he is still a defensive liability and a guy that struggles to make jumpers consistently. He can penetrate and cause issues for a defense, however. He averages 8.5 assists a game, but he still isn't a guy that can lead a team by scoring. Corey Brewer is adding 14 points per game at small forward.
The issue for Minnesota is depth off of the bench. Against OKC, the T'Wolves had three players - J.J. Barea, Dante Cunningham and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - register more than six minutes of play off of the bench. Of those three, only Barea is a true offensive threat, putting most of the scoring pressure - and minutes - on the starters. That can wear a team down and we saw that in the fourth quarter against OKC where Minnesota was outscored by 15 points in a loss.
San Antonio isn't playing to be the winner of December, but so far this season the Silver and Black has avoided losing to teams it should beat. Minnesota will be another one of those tests and a nice way to build momentum leading into the clash with Indiana this weekend. Minnesota is dangerous, however, and fully capable of pushing San Antonio for 48 minutes because of their ability to score the basketball. It will be San Antonio's ability to make stops down the stretch that should be the difference between a win or a loss.
Matchup to watch: It has to be how San Antonio decides to guard Ricky Rubio. As gifted a passer as the young Spaniard is, teams can sink off of him to help on guys like Martin and Love because of Rubio's inconsistent jumper.
Prediction: Spurs by 5
Timberwolves perspective can be found here: Canis Hoopus
Game Prediction: Spurs by 5.
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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