The Toronto Raptors’ first of two road games in as many nights is in Minneapolis. The T’Wolves have nudged above .500 with 7 wins in their last 9 games, and still have a outside shot at a playoff berth in the tough Western Conference. Minnesota has averaged 4 points more than their opponents on average, and should boast a much better record. However, they have displayed a maddening inability to win close games, and will need a ton of help to grab the #8 seed.
Kevin Love is the Wolves’ beast in residence. Their All-Star power forward more than compensates for lack of height with great positioning and phenomenal quickness under the boards. He is the NBA’s #2 rebounder and #4 scorer. Love has range out to well past the 3-point arc, and averages 2.4 “home run balls” (as Jack Armstrong calls them) PG [Per Game].
Their other statistical monster is in the backcourt, one Ricky Rubio. He leads the league in steals, and is #4 in assists, many of which are highlight-reel worthy. Fortunately for the rest of the NBA, Rubio is cursed with a dreadful jump shot. Such is not the case for shooting guard Kevin Martin, who can’t defend a fire hydrant but can make shots from anywhere. Nikola Pekovic tips at centre. He’s a beefier and more advanced version of Jonas Valanciunas (a glimpse of what JV might be in 2 years?) who averages 18 points and over 9 boards PG. Corey Brewer makes the most of a limited skillset at small forward; he runs the floor, defends and finds enough space to average almost 12 points PG.
The Wolves’s bench is nothing scary. Tiny veteran J.J. Barea is a feisty and fearless replacement for Rubio. Luc Mbah a Moute will see the floor for defensive purposes, likely to get in Patrick Patterson’s face.
The Raps won’t have an easy time against this group, which has averaged 114 points in their last 5 games, 4 of them victories. That said, Toronto has beaten Minnesota already this season, and can do it again if they:
- bother Love mercilessly. If I were scheming this game, I’d put Terrence Ross on Love and try to deny him the ball. TRoss is quick enough to get a hand in Love’s face on every jump shot. Once he’s inside the paint, Amir Johnson or Tyler Hansbrough will need to relentlessly box him out. JV can’t do it; he’ll have to handle Pekovic.
- protect the ball. Rubio can pick anyone’s pocket, or anticipate a lazy pass (I’m looking at you, Terrence!).
- hold their starters to a draw. Our second unit should be able to pound the Wolves, particularly if Greivis Vasquez hits his 3-balls.
We’ll need solid shooting nights from the off-form Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Assuming those two return to their usual standards, the Raps will win a 111-107 shootout.