The NBA is entering a new and interesting part of the season. With the In Season Tournament knockout rounds in full swing, the teams that didn’t make it out of pool play need make-up games to fill out their schedule. The San Antonio Spurs, who are on a 14-game losing streak, didn’t necessarily hit the lottery with its makeup draw. On Wednesday night, the Spurs will travel to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves, who hold the best record in the NBA.
In their last matchup the Spurs played the T-Wolves close, but lost 117-110. They were carried by strong performances from Victor Wembanyama and Devin Vassell, who both scored 29 points. Despite not making the In Season Tournament, the Timberwolves are off to a great start. They are locking down opponents, and thriving with multiple skilled big men on the floor. The Spurs offense is improving, and will need to be clicking on all cylinders if they want to snap their losing streak against one of the league’s best.
San Antonio Spurs (3-16) at Minnesota Timberwolves (15-4)
December 6, 2023 | 6:30 P.M. CT
Watch: Bally/ESPN | Listen: WOAI/KXTN
Spurs injuries: Dominick Barlow – Out (G League,) Charles Bediako – Out (G League,) Sidy Cissoko – Out (G League,) Zach Collins – Probable (left thumb,) Sir’Jabari Rice – Out (G League,) Devin Vassell – Probably (left knee,) Blake Wesley – Out (G League)
Timberwolves injuries: Jaylen Clark – Out (right achilles,) Anthony Edwards – Questionable (right hip,) Jaden McDaniels – Out (right ankle,) Jordan McLaughlin – Out (right knee,) Leonard Miller – Out (G League)
What to watch for
Finding ways to score
The Minnesota Timberwolves are the best defensive team in the NBA. They have the lowest defensive rating at 106.8 and hold opponents to just 43% from the field, the worst in the league. Meanwhile the Spurs are struggling offensively. They are 28th in the NBA in offensive rating (107.9) and scoring just 111.5 points a game, 22nd in the league. Obviously Rudy Gobert creates a lot of issues around the basket, but they have some good perimeter defenders around him. Not having Jaden McDaniels available is a blow to their defense.
In their last matchup, the Spurs created easy offense by pushing the break and getting to the basket. They forced the Timberwolves to commit 18 turnovers, and scored 18 points in the fast break. They put up 42 points in the paint, and got to the line 19 times. An easy way to break a good defense is to not let it get set. Playing a fast pace and forcing some turnovers could swing things into the Spurs favor, just as it did in their previous matchup.
Protecting the paint
The Timberwolves are a big team. Gobert, Karl Anthony Towns and Naz Reid all pose a unique challenge around the basket. Towns and Reid will also hurt you from deep. The Wolves are a top-10 rebounding team, and make it hard on teams to guard the paint. They play a slower paced game, and pound the ball inside, taking the 25th most threes in the NBA (31 a game.)
In their last matchup, the Wolves scored 50 points in the paint and got to the line 27 times. They had 13 offensive rebounds compared to 7 from the Spurs. After getting crushed inside by the New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio needs to harden their interior defense. Getting Wembanyama back should help, but it’ll take an all-around effort to stop the Timberwolves paint attack.
The number-one-overall pick missed the first game of his NBA career on Friday due to a tight hip. Before that injury, the rookie was having one of the best stretches of his early career. In November, Wembanyama averaged 20.1 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. Lately he was taking less threes, and looking to get downhill more. The Atlanta Hawks game was a great example of that.
Wemby played well in his last matchup against Gobert and the Wolves. He had 29 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks. He hit three deep balls in that matchup, and went 12-21 from the field. It will be interesting to see if Wembanyama is forced to the perimeter by the Wolves stout defense, or if he can continue to get to the basket. Either way it’s a big test for the Spurs rookie.