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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

Two teams that took very different approaches to their stars’ trade demands meet for a second season opener in a row.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at San Antonio Spurs
Oct 18, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves small forward Jimmy Butler (23) shoots the ball as San Antonio Spurs center Pau Gasol (16) and LaMarcus Aldridge (12) defend during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA’s increasingly star-driven brand of theater means the best players can shape their teams’ fortunes in profound ways. An incorrigibly driven type like, say, Jimmy Butler can challenge, provoke, and compel his teammates to care as much as he does (which, as he’ll have you understand, is a lot) while, in another Myers-Briggs quadrant, someone like Kawhi Leonard can keep to himself and let his all-world game do its own talking.

But a feature can also be a bug, and a modern player’s self-determination can just as easily undo everything a team is trying to accomplish when the two sides no longer see eye to eye.

The Spurs knew the only thing worse than losing their distant, disgruntled superstar was holding on to him, lest they carry further distractions and uncertainty into a new season. It was, as it seemed, the only logical thing for a functional front office to do.

The Wolves opted to retain their star, transforming into an alternate timeline to the one San Antonio went down. As the front office continues to explore trade options, they’re leaning into the optics and all the locker-room calamity that PATFO sought to forego, with drama that has already, hilariously, spilled out into the open.

It’s impossible to know what to expect from Butler and the Wolves tonight, but the stage seems set for more tension in the weeks to come. They finished the preseason losing their final four games by a combined 79 points, culminating in a 143-121 loss against the Bucks in which they gave up 25 made three-pointers.

A game with actual stakes may light a fire under the Wolves, pushing Butler to set aside whatever issues he has with his younger teammates as they’re galvanized against an arguably less talented opponent. Or the opposite may occur, as miscues and frustrations only widen the rift between the star and the rest of his team, allowing the Spurs to exploit an out-of-sync defense through deft passing and plenty of off-ball movement while giving fans some next-level drama to enjoy on opening night.

October 17th, 2018 | 7:30 PM CT

Watch: KENS | Listen: WOAI

Spurs (0-0) vs. Timberwolves (0-0)

Spurs Injuries: Dejounte Murray (knee), Lonnie Walker IV (knee), Derrick White (heel)

Wolves Injuries: Justin Patton (foot)

Aldridge vs Towns

Tonight’s matchup features two of the league’s best bigs, both of whom will need to be aggressive while balancing different dynamics with their stars on the wings. LaMarcus Aldridge will be looking to establish new chemistry with DeMar DeRozan, while every interaction between Karl-Anthony Towns and Butler will be under the microscope.

Gay is healthy

The only good bit of health news since training camp was word that Gay’s heel injury, which kept him out of the preseason finale against Orlando, is not serious. He was not on the team’s injury report on Tuesday and is expected to suit up tonight. Gay led all Spurs in scoring in the preseason with 15.3 points per game on shooting percentages of 70.6% from the field and 66.7% from three (on three attempts per game), and looks poised for a strong second season in San Antonio.

Can the Wolves make the most of their point-guard advantage?

It’s safe to expect Jeff Teague to go at starter-by-default Bryn Forbes early, often and with gusto tonight, but Minnesota’s positional advantage includes Tyus Jones and Derrick Rose, two guys who are distinctly useful if at very different points in their career arcs. All three can test a Spurs perimeter defense that could look more porous than ever with Dejounte Murray out.

It’s unclear how the Spurs will cope with their point guard deficiencies at this stage. Forbes and Patty Mills are undersized combo guards who will do what they can as stopgaps, but it feels like much of the off-the-dribble creation will rest on DeRozan in the near future. A heavy dose of pick and rolls with Aldridge should be in order.

H-E-B Commercial Watch

It wouldn’t be the start of the NBA season without a return to the leafy suburbs of the Spurs’ H-E-B-verse, with one or two ads expected to hit the airwaves during tonight’s broadcast. Not that you need another reason to tune in.

Vegas odds: Spurs by 3.5.

Game Prediction: Spurs by 6.

For the Wolves fans’ perspective, visit Canis Hoopus.

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