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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Minnesota Timberwolves

The Spurs look to win their first multi-game road trip since December of 2017.

Minnesota Timberwolves v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

The Spurs have not won a multi-game road trip since going 2-1 against the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, and Sacramento Kings right before Christmas of 2017. If you’re wondering how often the Spurs go on multi-game road trips, this will be the tenth time the Spurs have gone on one since the aforementioned three-game trip last December. I understand that beating the Indiana Pacers without two of their best players, giving up infinity points to the Milwaukee Bucks, and barely squeaking out a victory against the bottom-dwelling Chicago Bulls doesn’t exactly scream road warriors, but I’ll take any road win at this point.

November 28th, 2018 | 7:00 CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI
Spurs (10-10) at Timberwolves (10-11)

San Antonio Spurs

Dejounte Murray (Out Indefinitely - Knee), Lonnie Walker IV (Targeting December Return - Knee), Pau Gasol (Out Indefinitely - Foot)

Minnesota Timberwolves

Jerryd Bayless (Out Indefinitely - Knee)

Parity in the Western Conference

I can’t remember an NBA season where there existed this much parity inside the Western Conference. Sure, it’s been a highly competitive conference for years now, where nearing 50 wins was a must in order to make the playoffs. Still, a quarter of the way through the season, and only four games in the loss column separates the Los Angeles Clippers at the top and the Houston Rockets in thirteenth. There’s always been a fine line between tanking and just not being a very good team, but teams that have fallen under this category in the past are starting to become competitive. It’s going to be extremely fun watching all these teams battle throughout the season, and I hope the Spurs are right in the mix come April.

It’s easy for teams to take nights off during the overlong regular season, especially in freezing Minnesota at the end of November. With the standings as tight as they are, and San Antonio not as talented as they have been in the past, the Spurs - or any team in the West for that matter - do not have the luxury of taking any nights off this season. While it certainly hasn’t always been pretty, I have yet to see the Spurs phone in any games like I’ve seen on occasion with the better Spurs teams of the past. While both the Spurs and Timberwolves are currently outside of the playoff picture, one or two wins for either team puts them right back in the middle of the race.

Addition by subtraction, or fool’s gold?

The Timberwolves have gone 6-2 since trading Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers for Robert Convington and Dario Saric. Similar to how I feel about the Spurs’ last three games on the road, the Wolves must feel lukewarm about this 6-2 stretch. Four of those wins have come from the Bulls, Kings (twice), and Cleveland Cavaliers. They are 2-2 versus the four Western Conference contenders they have played during this stretch, and all four of those games were at home.

Saric has continued to struggle from the floor since being traded, but Covington’s fantastic season has only improved since joining the Wolves. Outside a spectacularly bad 1-18 showing against the Chicago Bulls a couple games ago, he has played really efficient basketball on the offensive end and has been an absolute terror on defense.

Despite Covington’s strong play, in a vacuum Butler is better than both Covington and Saric combined. Something can be said for removing pieces that have become toxic, and the Wolves seem to be playing with a freeness that suggests they were being held hostage by Butler’s demands. While the play of Karl-Anthony Towns has improved since Butler’s departure, the same cannot be said of Andrew Wiggins. He’s shooting only 35% from the field in November.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Wolves can continue their strong play, or if reality sets in and they end up falling out of playoff contention as many figured they would once Butler was gone.

By the numbers

Statistic Spurs Timberwolves Advantage
Statistic Spurs Timberwolves Advantage
Bench Points 38 31 Spurs
Offensive Rating 109.7 106.9 Spurs
3P% 38.5 35.6 Spurs
Opp Second Chance Points 12.1 15.5 Spurs
Assists 23.6 22.9 Neutral
TS% 54.7 54 Neutral
Fouls 18.8 20 Neutral
Total Rebounds 45 44 Neutral
Opp Points off Turnovers 15.3 15.5 Neutral
FTA 22.8 23.1 Neutral
Defensive Rating 110 109.4 Neutral
Second Chance Points 13.6 14.4 Neutral
FT% 80.9 81.9 Neutral
Points in the Paint 42.2 46.5 Timberwolves
Points off Turnovers 14.5 16.5 Timberwolves
Opp Points in the Paint 50 47.2 Timberwolves
Blocks 4 5.5 Timberwolves
Fastbreak Points 8.9 15.1 Timberwolves
Steals 6.2 9.5 Timberwolves

The Spurs and Wolves are pretty evenly matched from a statistical standpoint, which is probably why they have similar records. The only real advantage the Spurs have is in offensive efficiency, especially from deep.

The Spurs bench unit does have an advantage over the bench unit of the Wolves, but some of that has to do with the fact Tom Thibodeau is notorious for riding his starters into the ground. This season is no different, as the Houston Rockets are the only team in the NBA averaging fewer bench minutes than the Wolves. Still, the Wolves bench has a FG% of only 41%, which is the fourth worst mark in the NBA. If the starters of the Spurs can hang with the starters of the Wolves, the bench of the Spurs should be able to generate - or hopefully extend - a lead.

The Wolves are an average fast break team in the league, but that still gives them quite an advantage over the Spurs, who seem incapable of generating easy buckets in the open court this season. Even with the injury to Dejounte Murray, I’m still really surprised the Spurs have stuck with such a slow-paced offense this season.

Covington is a steal machine, and is largely responsible for the Wolves being second in the NBA in steals. The Spurs are no longer blessed with the length they used to have on the wing, and as a result, have fallen towards the bottom of the league in steals. The Spurs continue to be good at limiting turnovers, but as some have noted on this site, the turnovers they do have tend to be of the live-ball nature and come at inopportune times during the game.

Final thoughts

Covington will likely be draped all over DeMar DeRozan throughout this contest, so the Spurs will need to rely on Aldridge to abuse Towns in the paint. Aldridge has had his fair share of success against Towns, but during the season opener against the Wolves, Aldridge ended up with 21 points on 7-23 shooting. I guess the only thing that mattered was that Aldridge reached the 20 point milestone, since the Spurs are 9-0 in games Aldridge reaches 20 points. The only meaningful thing I get from that statistic is that Aldridge has only scored 20 or more points in nine of the Spurs first 20 games. For reference, Aldridge scored under 20 points in only 23 games last season. Aldridge must play better if the Spurs are going to somehow make the playoffs in the insanely deep West.

Vegas odds: Wolves by 4

Game Prediction: Spurs by 10

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.