Minnesota Timberwolves (18-20) at Toronto Raptors (19-18): 3 keys to a fresh start

The Toronto Raptors could have extended their 3-game win streak Wednesday night match in Boston, but fumbled the chance. Now they face a much tougher opponent, the high-scoring Minnesota Timberwolves, in a pick-‘em game at the Air Canada Centre. Can the Raps bounce back from what was their worst performance since Rudy Gay left town?

Jan 15, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love (42) shoots the ball as Sacramento Kings power forward Jason Thompson (34) defends in the second half at Target Center. The Kings won 111-108. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The “face” of the T’Wolves is power forward Kevin Love, a whirling dervish scorer and rebounder. He’s fourth in the NBA in Points Per Game [PG] with 25.6 and second in rebounds at 13 PG. This man is a threat from anywhere on the floor; he has 92 3-balls already, and makes them at a 39% clip. I’m intrigued at the idea of asking Terrence Ross to get in his face. The other big headache for the Raptors will be coping with point guard Ricky Rubio. The youthful Spaniard has been playing pro ball since he was 14(!), and is a wonderfully creative passer. Oh yeah – he leads the NBA in steals PG with 2.66. I shudder at the thought of turnover-prone Greivis Vasquez trying to bring the ball up the floor against Rubio, and doubt very much whether coach Dwight Casey will allow that matchup. Rubio would be illegal except for his poor shooting.

The other ‘Wolves starters aren’t shabby, particularly centre Nikola Pekovic, who’s been filling up the stats sheets lately. This massive Montegrin will pound on Jonas Valanciunas. Corey Brewer, who will likely guard DeMar DeRozan, has added some scoring skills to his resume, which had been built on defense. Kevin Martin, by contrast, is a consistent scorer who contributes little otherwise.

Minnesota’s bench is nothing special, though tiny guard J.J. Barea can score, and Luc Mbah a Moute can defend well against opposing big men.

The Achilles heel of this high-scoring squad is defense. A team which ranks second behind Portland with 107.1 Points PG should have a better record. The Raps can win this game if they:

  • force Rubio to shoot. This is certainly an entry for the Easier-Said-Than-Done file, but it’s necessary. If the Raps deny the ‘Wolves ball movement through tight coverage, Rubio will run out of clock. The Raps may also want to stay tight on the ballhandler in the backcourt, to chew up some seconds.
  • give JV some help. Kyle Lowry may need to slough off Rubio, and pressure the ball when it’s in Pekovic’s giant mitts. The same applies to Love, as he’s too much for one defender.
  • hit their first shots. Offensive rebounds will be in short supply. Effective and unselfish ball movement should lead to open looks against Minny’s sluggish defense.

The Raps must receive contributions from everyone, unlike the Boston game. If the second unit can regain its composure after a dismal outing, and Love can be contained, Toronto will defeat Minnesota 110-106.

Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.

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