February 24, 2018, 6:20 pm
While the news of Jimmy Butler remains on everyone’s mind, the Wolves must have a short memory and take care of business on their home court.
With or without Butler, the importance of the next two games for the Wolves matters just the same. The schedule really tightens up in the weeks ahead, with eight straight games versus teams currently above .500 and four of them coming on the road.
Their next two games are versus the last-place Bulls and the last-place Kings, though, giving the Wolves two favorable matchups ahead of the big grind. There’s no automatic wins in this league, but these next two are about as winnable as it gets.
The Wolves allowed the Kings to hang in much too long in the last meeting, and they lost to the Bulls before the All-Star break on the road. That simply cannot happen again. Every win down the stretch matters, and every loss could be the difference.
In the last meeting versus the Bulls, the Wolves were at the mercy of Zach LaVine and his quest for revenge. He scored 35 points and hit the game-winning shot against his first team and looked every bit of his former, healthy self.
Of course Butler scored 38 points for the Wolves that night, though it wasn’t enough.
Outside of LaVine the Wolves did an okay job of limiting the supporting cast. The Bulls only made 9-of-26 3-pointers, which is normally a big portion of their game. Robin Lopez scored 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, but it looks like the Bulls are going to sit him the rest of the season as they are committed to a youth movement.
It’s not always the case that teams going all-in on youth get worse, and the Bulls do have a nice young core of players thanks to the Wolves.
In fact, this time around the Wolves will get a full look on the future they traded away with Kris Dunn set to play along side LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. Dunn missed the last meeting between these teams and, like LaVine, will be on a mission to prove the Wolves wrong.
In addition to Lopez seeing limited (if any) time down the stretch, the Bulls are also easing up on Justin Holiday’s minutes in favor of David Nwaba. Young teams can be dangerous as they’re out to prove their value, but mistakes will happen. It will be up to the Wolves to keep focused and capitalize on their youth despite all the current distractions.
LaVine was the only real unstoppable player for the Bulls. He’ll be on another revenge game, this time in from of his beloved Wolves’ fans who haven’t forgotten him. He’ll certainly want to put on a show in his old stomping grounds.
Andrew Wiggins seemed to have a better time containing LaVine than when Butler was guarding him, and given Butler’s status Wiggins will likely be the one Thibs turns to.
Not only will Wiggins need to step up defensively, he suddenly gets thrust back into the spotlight of the offense after taking a major back seat this season. Towns will take some of the load, as will Teague, but Wiggins is the main perimeter option and will slide into many of the sets Thibs draw up for Jimmy.
The news of Butler stings but Wiggins can help ease the pain with a statement game tonight.
Jeff Teague – PG
Andrew Wiggins – SG
Nemanja Bjelica – SF
Taj Gibson – PF
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
Kris Dunn – PG
Zach LaVine – SG
Davis Nwaba – SF
Lauri Markkanen – PF
Cristiano Felicio – C
Jimmy Butler (knee) – OUT
Justin Holiday (rest) – QUESTIONABLE
Robin Lopez (rest) – QUESTIONABLE
Paul Zipser (foot) – QUESTIONABLE
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
When: 9:00 ET/8:00 CT
How: Fox Sports North