Who: Golden State Warriors (51-15) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (38-29)
When: 12:30 p.m. PST - Sunday, March 11th, 2018
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
How to watch: ABC
How to listen: 95.7 The Game
Blog Buddy: Canis Hoopus
Warriors: David West (infection, arm, doubtful), out, Andre Iguodala (wrist, doubtful), Jordan Bell (ankle sprain) doubtful), Patrick McCaw (left wrist fracture, out), Stephen Curry, (ankle, out)
Timberwolves: Jimmy Butler (knee), out
The Timberwolves are not the Blazers
The Western Conference playoff conversation is twofold 1) the Warriors vs. the Rockets and 2) What teams are the “best of the rest?”
The Warriors played the San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers and now, the Minnesota Timberwolves in their three most-recent games. All three teams are considered to be among the “rest” of the Western Conference.
The Blazers are the best of the three. They’ve beaten the Warriors twice, are third in the Western Conference and are winners of nine in a row. Portland also holds opponents to the fourth lowest field-goal percentage in the NBA. Their defense is legitimate and their backcourt is third only to the Warriors and Rockets.
As Portland improves, the Minnesota Timberwolves are trending in the opposite direction. A couple weeks ago, the Wolves lost their star Jimmy Butler for the remainder of the regular season to a knee injury. They have since dropped from the three seed to the six seed in the West, tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and are losers of three straight. Minnesota is showing their true colors.
Without Jimmy Butler, Minnesota is not a playoff team.
Their starters are burnt out. Andrew Wiggins leads the NBA in total minutes — yes, Andrew Wiggins. Karl-Anthony Towns and TAJ GIBSON are both in the top 20 for total minutes played. Before Butler’s injury, he was third in the NBA with 37.1 minutes per game. Coach Tom Thibodeau is a madman who rubs against everything the NBA understands about minutes. All four of the aforementioned Wolves average more minutes a game than Stephen Curry.
Remember how Thibs is a defensive whiz? The Wolves are 29th in opponent field goal percentage and 18th in opponent three-point percentage (per NBA.com/stats). Jimmy Butler is everything to this team. With him, the Wolves have a shot against other playoff teams. Without him, they have the uber-talented Karl-Anthony Towns, still-raw Andrew Wiggins, veteran-Taj Gibson, and a crew of washed former Bulls players.
Losing to Minnesota would qualify as “bad”
Karl-Anthony Towns will make an impact on today’s game. He’s a dazzling offensive talent. Zaza Pachulia, Kevon Looney and JaVale McGee (maybe David West?) might struggle against him. KAT is going to score, and that’s O.K.
Golden State’s focus should be on everyone other than KAT. The Warriors will win handily if they keep Wiggins, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford off the three-point line — something Golden State struggled to do against Portland. Without Butler, the Wolves are closer to the Pistons or Knicks than a Western conference playoff team. Losing to Portland on a back-to-back without Curry is totally understandable. Losing to a Butler-less Minnesota team is not.
Which bench player can step up on offense?
Kevin Durant is playing out of his mind. Klay is doing Klay and Draymond is showing playoff-intensity on defense. Against Portland, it wasn’t enough. JaVale McGee shouldn’t be the fourth scorer, even without Curry, West, Iguodala, McCaw and Bell. Well, okay, maybe he should be — the Warriors are depleted.
The Wolves lack of defense screams, “Nick Young, this is your time.” I think he’s going to have a huge game against the Wolves. He likes playing on national TV (three of his five best scoring games have all been on national TV) and Jamal Crawford-defense might be a boost.
Losing stinks but stay cool
The Warriors are in the dog days of March without their most important player. In the loss against Portland, I thought the team looked exceptionally loose — a great sign given their poor collective play. Sunday is just another game, but given the Wolves’ current personnel, it’s a game the Warriors should win.
Get ready for a Swaggy P. Sunday.