March 28, 2018, 3:39 pm
Looking to put their brutal loss behind them, the Wolves host the Atlanta Hawks in another contest versus a tanking team. After facing the second worst team in the West, it’ll be the worst team in the East that visits Minneapolis.
The loss to Memphis the other night was softened thanks to losses from the Spurs, Nuggets and Pelicans, and the Wolves still control their own destiny with games against the Jazz and Nuggets still ahead, along with their tie-breaker over the Clippers.
The greater picture here is a troubling trend versus teams well below the Wolves’ talent level. They’ve lost to Atlanta, Brooklyn, Chicago and Orlando, along with Memphis and Phoenix twice each. Those teams have a combined winning percentage under .300, and five of them are the worst five in the standings, with Chicago being one game behind in seventh-worst.
Ideally the Wolves would have won all eight of those games, but even winning half of them puts a half-game behind Portland for third place in the West.
Playing down to the competition has been an issue for the Wolves all season, and it’s tough to peg exactly why. Tom Thibodeau believes that the team needs to exhibit more toughness with Jimmy Butler out, but seven of those eight losses to tanking teams occurred with Butler in the lineup.
Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns refute that the team lacks toughness, just believing they need to execute better. That’s probably true, but vague and raises the question of why they aren’t executing properly against poor teams, but then go out and beat the Toronto and Golden State Warriors, and sweep the Pelicans.
Whatever it is that’s holding them back, they need to break it the rest of the season. Every game needs to have that playoff game mentality from here on out. If not, there are two teams right on their heels that will gladly take their spot.
The Hawks have been decimated by injuries, trades and other outside factors (a tanking mandate) which has made their gameplan a mess, ever adapting to the conditions. Their main scorer, Dennis Schroder, is out tonight, making it tougher to judge where they will turn.
One thing is for sure, though, and that is they will be launching 3-pointers throughout the night. In March the Hawks are taking the fourth-most 3-pointers in the NBA with 33.8 per game, and making 12.6 per game, good for sixth-most. Without Dennis Schroder the other night they took even more 3-pointers with 40 attempts.
The Wolves need to cover the 3-point line at all costs as that will be the Hawks’ main source of offense all night. They have talented bigs, but are not physically imposing or post-based guys. Towns and Gibson certainly have the interior advantage there, and should be able to exploit it.
It will come down to whether the Wolves get out on 3-point shooters and contest shots. The Grizzlies, who make just nine 3-pointers per game as a team, popped off for 15 on Monday. The Wolves cannot suffer that again, or they could be on their way to another tough loss.
Expect more intensity from the Wolves tonight as they put their embarrassing performance on Monday to rest.
Jeff Teague – PG
Andrew Wiggins – SG
Nemanja Bjelica – SF
Taj Gibson – PF
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
Isaiah Taylor – PG
Damion Lee – SG
Taurean Prince – SF
John Collins – PF
Dewayne Dedmon – C
Jimmy Butler (knee) – OUT
Derrick Rose (ankle) – OUT
Kent Bazemore (knee) – OUT
DeAndre’ Bembry (abdominal) – OUT
Malcolm Delaney (ankle) – OUT
Jaylen Morris (ankle) – OUT
Dennis Schroder (ankle) – OUT
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
When: 8:00 ET/7:00 CT
How: Fox Sports North