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Preview: Draymond Green returns! A (mostly) full-strength Warriors host Timberwolves

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Golden State versus Minnesota showcases two teams that both had personnel issues - and two different resolutions

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Golden State Warriors

Fresh off of what was probably the Golden State Warriorsmost impressive victory of the season, the Warriors return to the friendly confines of Oracle Arena to take on a Minnesota Timberwolves team that shares little resemblance to the team Golden State trounced by 17 points back in November.

Most importantly, Draymond Green will return after missing 14 games. Green has missed more games than he’s played this year but hopefully this extended rest was sufficient to heal all the internal and external wounds. Remember that Golden State was off to a gaudy 10-1 start before Green initially got injured.

We are still waiting for Demarcus Cousins, who is ramping up activities towards his imminent return, but this is the full squad that we’ve been missing for the past month and it sure will be nice to see the whole crew back out there again.

Game Details

WHO: Warriors vs. Timberwolves

WHEN: Monday, December 10; 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Oracle Arena — Oakland, CA

WATCH: NBCSBA

RADIO: 95.7 The Game

Finding their stride and getting healthy, Golden State is back atop the West

After roaring out to an impressive start, the Warriors hit some bumps in the road. A swath of injuries have pulled starting point guard Stephen Curry and power forward Draymond Green out of the lineup for extended periods. On top of that, starting center Damian Jones is likely done for the season after tearing a muscle and a number of key reserves have missed games. However, iron sharpens iron, and it looks like Golden State is finding their familiar home back on top of the standings.

A third of the way through the season, things sure are shaken up in the West - but the Warriors stand at their rightful place atop the heap

What will Green’s return do?

It seems almost silly to spell all of this out — but given the length of his absence, let’s go ahead and revisit what Green’s return to the Warriors may mean. He’s been sitting for almost a month now, so expect some rust and hiccups as everything recalibrates, but I’m guessing those issues get ironed out quickly.

As Marcus Thompson pointed out in a recent article for The Athletic, Green does much more than just play defense . Without Green, the team’s pace has slowed to a crawl and the open looks aren’t coming as easily. Just take a look at how different the team looks with and without Green:

Last season the Warriors’ effective field goal percentage — the stat that incorporates the added value of 3-pointers — was .580 with Green on the floor. When he wasn’t, it dropped to .553. The disparity was even more pronounced in the postseason: .557 with Green on the floor and .495 with him off.

Thompson goes on to point to the fact that Green has led the team in assists for each of the last three seasons and is one of the primary forces driving the fast-paced style that makes Golden State so scary. From grabbing the rebound, to pushing the ball up the court, to knowing the appropriate play at the conclusion of the break, Green is critically important to making this Warriors offense look like the Warriors offense.

According to NBA.com, the Warriors somehow lead the league in offensive rating — but this team has looked anything but normal without Green. On the other side of the ball, the Warriors defense has been decidedly pedestrian, currently sitting at a woeful 18th in the NBA. Both of these factors will be improved with Green back out there.

Bottom line: Draymond Green is going to help the offense and defense. Significantly. The Warriors may need a couple of games to get back into rhythm playing with him, but there’s no doubt that he is one of the most critical components of the Warriors’ engine. With Cousins’ return looming on the horizon, it’s probably a bit disconcerting for our opponents that we weathered this early season storm and came out on top of the West.

Two problems, two solutions: Warriors and Timberwolves seem to have worked through early season issues in their own ways

Everything looks rosier now, but for a minute there, we had some very uncomfortable questions about the viability of this Warriors roster. Were we really going to trade Draymond Green because he was too volatile? Was Kevin Durant going to be too mad to successfully play alongside these guys anymore?

Things have calmed down quite a bit now, but through it all the Warriors stance was that this was something they were going to work out together as a team.

The Minnesota Timberwolves had a similar problem, but with a very different resolution. After star player Jimmy Butler spent most of the early season punking his teammates, the Wolves made the decision to trade him, and they got a nice package in return. Depending on your perspective, the trade of Butler was either inevitable or bold, but it’s tough to argue with the results.

The Wolves have gone 9-4 since the trade, including winning six of their last eight games. Without Butler, the Wolves have embraced a balanced offensive attack that features seven players with double-digit scoring averages. Oddly, somehow Derrick Rose is good again, averaging 18 points and 4 assists in just about 30 minutes of action per game.

Defensively, keep an eye on Robert Covington, one of the key players brought back in the Butler deal. Covington is a long-limbed ace defender that will surely come in handy against the Warriors’ bevvy of offensive options.

Prediction

This will be my first game of the season that I get to watch under the sparkling lights of my new X-mas tree. These first games back from a road trip can be a bit rough. Add in a key returning player in Green and I foresee a close game, but one that the Warriors pull out at home: Dubs 109, Wolves 103.