• Things don’t get any easier for the Wolves after losing to the Hawks last night.

    After facing the worst team in the east, they play arguably the second best team in the east on the back-end of their back-to-back.

    The loss last night was frustrating to say the least and the Wolves are likely looking forward to putting it behind them no matter the next opponent. They have an opportunity to do so over a team they beat just last week without Jimmy Butler.

    They can take some solace in that they’ve already beat the Raptors once while missing key players. Now at full strength, and on top of that angry from last night, perhaps the Wolves will be a little extra motivated tonight. Of course their road record through the east is a lousy 2-7 and there are few indications of that turning around any time soon.

    The Raptors are still an overlooked team the the east, holding firm in the top-five in both offensive and defensive rating. The expanded playmaking role of DeMar DeRozan has elevated the offense to another level, while players like Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright have been key defensive players.

    Of course the backcourt dynamic between Kyle Lowry and DeRozan automatically keeps the Raptors competitive in most games. Last time out it was Lowry who exploded for 40 points and six 3-pointers.

    The Wolves did a great job of shutting down the rest of the team though. Towns got Jonas Valanciunas into significant foul trouble and took advantage of the young Poeltl who doesn’t quite have the size to stick with Towns.

    They generally had limited production off their bench as well, with only Wright stepping up, though his 12 points wasn’t quite enough.

    A complete-team defensive effort will once again be the key for the Wolves, which theoretically should become easier with Butler back in there.

    Key Matchups:

    – Karl-Anthony Towns vs. Jonas Valanciunas

    – Jimmy Butler vs. DeMar DeRozan

    Getting Jonas out of the last game early mucked up the Raptors’ big man rotation and had a ripple effect on their ideal matchup scheme. Even if they aren’t able to get him into foul trouble again, the Wolves would be wise to feed Towns the ball more. His lack of shot attempts in recent games has been quite disturbing.

    Towns can be more active in getting himself in better positions to demand the ball, but there have been a number of times where Towns is calling for the ball and doesn’t get it. In the Wolves’ loss last night to the Hawks, it’s tough not thinking if Towns got the ball just a few more times in the post the Wolves could have won easily.

    Hindsight is 20/20 but Towns is a significant matchup nightmare on most nights and will be again against Valanciunas.

    On the perimeter Butler has the opportunity to guard DeRozan and try to slow down his offense. More often than ever, the Raptors are running their offense through DeRozan and it’s been extremely beneficial for both DeMar and his teammates.

    If Butler is able to disrupt this flow, perhaps the Raptors regress to their formerly isolation-dominated offense that, while still effective, is easier to guard.

    Lineups:

    Jeff Teague – PG

    Jimmy Butler – SG

    Andrew Wiggins – SF

    Taj Gibson – PF

    Karl-Anthony Towns – C

    vs.

    Kyle Lowry – PG

    DeMar DeRozan – SG

    OG Anunoby – SF

    Serge Ibaka – PF

    Jonas Valanciunas – C

    Injuries:

    C.J. Miles (knee) – OUT

    Fred VanVleet (personal) – ACTIVE

    Where to Watch:

    7:30 ET/6:30 CT on Fox Sports North

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