Minnesota Timberwolves at Raptors – Preview & 3 keys to win

Feb 10, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) holds the ball against Toronto Raptors forward Luis Scola (4) in the first half at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 10, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) holds the ball against Toronto Raptors forward Luis Scola (4) in the first half at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /
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Recently in Minneapolis, the Toronto Raptors allowed complacency to enter their heads, and it cost them a victory. Tonight they get a chance for revenge.

The T’wolves are a talented and young team, which means they are wildly inconsistent. They beat the Raptors a week, then promptly lost to the Grizzlies and Knicks, whom Toronto just defeated. On Monday night, the T’wolves defeated the surging Celtics, despite almost squandering a 10-point lead with 90 seconds to play. There’s no way to know which version of their team will emerge each night, which means their coach, former Raptors bench boss Sam Mitchell, must occasionally want to scream into his pillow.

The T’wolves enjoy the services of the reigning Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, the pride of Thornhill. I’d wager they will have another winner named in award season, that being the graceful giant Karl-Anthony Towns. While I like this era of small ball, I question how long it will last. There is a new generation of skilled big men emerging who are challenging the notion that a lineup of swingmen is all you need. Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Jahlil Okafor, perhaps Nerlens Noel and (someday) Joel Embiid…don’t say you weren’t warned.

Minnesota starts Ricky Rubio at the point, but have been fretting for some time whether he’s the man to carry them into their long-awaited era of consistent contenderhood. He can pass and defend on the highest level, but his shooting and ability to finish at the rim doesn’t rise to even the level of mediocre. Gorgui Dieng has shown flashes of skill at power forward. He’s long, and can score in small doses. Zach LaVine, their shooting guard, returns to the Air Canada Centre, where he and Aaron Gordon put on such a brilliant display in the Dunk Contest recently. LaVine is a remarkable athlete, but as Terrence Ross has shown so glaringly, that’s not sufficient to be a player of note in the NBA. I think the kid will get there, but not quickly.

Feb 10, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) looks to pass the ball around Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) on the first half at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 10, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) looks to pass the ball around Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) on the first half at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Minnesota bench has been wracked with injuries, so we’re not likely to see spiritual leader Kevin Garnett or hefty centre Nikola Pekovic, who’s been paid more to do less than anyone I can think of. Nemanja Bjelica, a useful European forward, is also out, though Kevin Martin has returned to the lineup. He, Garnett, Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller comprise the really, really old guys on this oddly constructed roster.

The Raptors should be able to slice and dice this group, and will if they…:

  1. …go right at Towns. He’s their most consistent scorer, but he can’t make shots from the bench. He had 4 fouls against the Raptors last week. Yes, he’s a shot-blocker. So be it.
  2. …clear out for DeMar. I’m skeptical LaVine can cover our man. DeRozan makes overeager kids look bad. See point 1.
  3. …crash the boards. This is not a stroke of brilliance, just a recognition of fundamentals. The T’wolves are near the bottom in rebounds per game at 42.2, and Towns averages 10.2. Keep the rest of them away from the iron, and challenge shots without fouling. They rank 28th in 3-point shooting percentage, so there’s no need for tight coverage.

A motivated Raptors team can beat anyone, and they should be hungry for payback. Toronto 111 – Minnesota 98.