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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

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San Antonio begins a three game homestand against the T-Wolves.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Once the Minnesota Timberwolves added Tom Thibodeau to the organization, as President of Basketball Operations and head coach, the discourse immediately changed. Here was an accomplished head coach, with a 64.7 winning percentage in Chicago and four consecutive seasons leading a top-10 defense, taking on an unfinished product. Minnesota hasn’t had a winning season since the 2004-05 season. In fact, its 245 wins since Kevin Garnett left is the lowest in the entire league. The Sacramento Kings won 269 games in this span.

All the Timberwolves have to show for the past 12 seasons is 12 lottery picks.

Some picks panned out. Karl-Anthony Towns is a superstar in the making. Zach LaVine is more than a dunker. Ricky Rubio can’t shoot worth a lick, but the offense is always better when he’s on the floor. Nabbing Nikola Pekovic for an early second-round pick was a steal.

Other haven’t returned value. Derrick Williams, the second overall pick in the 2011 Draft, played three seasons before he was ousted. Minnesota selected Rubio AND Jonny Flynn over Stephen Curry. Wesley Johnson never developed into anything more than a backup-level small forward; he lasted two seasons in Minnesota. Kris Dunn is a clear work-in-progress.

Vegas still believed in the Thibodeau Timberwolves, placing its over/under at 41.5 wins this season. Many NBA cognoscenti joined the bandwagon, too. Here’s the thinking behind a Timberwolves playoff run:

  1. Minnesota finished 27th in defensive efficiency last season.
  2. Now they have Thibodeau. Chicago never finished lower than 11th in defensive efficiency under Thibodeau.
  3. Another leap from Towns.
  4. Another leap from Andrew Wiggins.
  5. LaVine, Rubio, Pekovic and Dieng filling in the gaps.
  6. Dunn contending for Rookie of the Year.

Towns improved his scoring (24.0), rebounding (12.2) and assist (2.9) averages this year. His field goal percentage is still above 50 percent. Wiggins is putting up career-highs in points (23.4) and field goal percentage (46.4). Minnesota received positive contributions from Dieng, Rubio and LaVine. Check, check, check.

Even the great Thibodeau can’t cure the Timberwolves leaky defense in one season. Losing Pekovic (torn Achilles) before the season hurt. Dunn is shooting 37.5 percent off the bench.

Minnesota is 25-36, far below its expected win-loss record based on point differential. Basketball teams with the statistical profile of the 2016-17 Timberwolves hover around the .500 mark, which is plenty good enough to sneak into the eighth spot this year.

Blame a damning 11-20 record in “clutch” games. Only Brooklyn and Los Angeles have won a lower percentage of games decided by five points or fewer, per NBA.com. In these high-leverage situations, Minnesota’s punchless offense is outscored by 7.3 points per 100 possessions. No team with Towns and Wiggins on the same roster should be this hopeless.

But, alas, Minnesota sits outside of the playoff picture. Another lottery pick might be on its way.

Sound familiar?

San Antonio Spurs (47-13) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-36)

March 4, 2017 | 8:00 pm CDT

Watch: FSSW; Listen: 1200 AM WOAI

Spurs injuries: None

Timberwolves injuries: Zach LaVine (knee), Adreian Payne (illness)

Tim Duncan vs. Karl-Anthony Towns

Google “Karl-Anthony Towns Tim Duncan” and you’ll find plenty of hits. With good reason, too. The 21-year-old phenom had a phenomenal rookie season and he’s killing it again in his second season. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

  • Towns’ first two seasons: 34.0 minutes, 20.7 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.6 blocks, 0.7 steals, 53.4 FG%, 81.7 FT%.
  • Duncan’s first two seasons: 39.1 minutes, 21.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.5 blocks, 0.8 steals, 52.7 FG%, 67.4 FT%.

Towns is putting up Duncan-esque numbers in five fewer minutes per game, too. Now all he needs to be the next Tim Duncan is at least 17 All-NBA teams, 16 All-Defensive teams, 15 All-Star appearances, five titles, three Finals MVPs and two MVPs.

No pressure.


Vegas line: Spurs by 8.

Game prediction: Spurs by 8.

For the Timberwolves’ fan’s perspective, visit Canis Hoopus.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher.

PtR's Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR's Twitter feed.