• Off the heels of a loss to the Heat on Friday, the Wolves look to get back on track versus the Phoenix Suns. Minnesota has suddenly lost 3-of-4 games and they have not played particularly well, especially on defense.

    Now they face a team they’ve already lost to once this season, though the Suns have struggled and rank as one of the worst teams in the NBA.

    Coming into the game, Phoenix ranks second in the NBA in pace, meaning they play a fast, up-and-down game, yet they rank in the middle of the pack offensively. Normally the reason teams play fast is to generate more offense.

    The Suns however are not an efficient team. They rank 29th in 3-point percentage and 22nd in 2-point percentage, 20th in turnover percentage and 20th in free-throw percentage.

    Their defense is bad as well, and they have a terrible time defending without fouling. They by far lead the NBA in opponent free-throw attempts, a strong suit of the Wolves.

    While Minnesota faced an extremely well-coached Miami team, these Suns are a bit of a wild card at the moment. Having fired Earl Watson after an 0-3 start, Jay Triano has taken over and managed a 7-10 record, though they are 3-9 their last 12 games.

    The Suns’ only gameplan is to out-run opposing teams and hope they’re within striking distance late.

    That’s precisely what happened the last time these teams met. The Wolves had a lead into the fourth quarter, but it was a close matchup. They weren’t able to pull away from the Suns and suddenly the Suns couldn’t miss a shot and the Wolves couldn’t slow their pace down.

    In particular, Butler and Wiggins weren’t able to stop Booker and Warren. The Wolves aren’t going to be able to slow the Suns’ down, they’re going to keep running no matter what. What they can do is make life harder for the aforementioned Booker and Warren. They were having a field day, scoring 36 each, but were undefended too often.

    If the Wolves are serious about competing this season, they can’t give too many of these games away. In the middle of a homestand with days off against thin competition, they need to take care of business.

    The status of Jeff Teague and Nemanja Bjelica is still up in the air. Both injures have cause for concern though. Bjelica hurt the same foot he had surgically repaired last Spring, while Achilles injuries can be serious if rushed back. For what it’s worth, neither is considered serious.

    Aaron Brooks started in place of Teague in the last game, though that was likely as a result of Thibs not wanting to disrupt the bench too much since it was such a late scratch.

    If Teague is out again, it’s likely Jones steps into the lineup. No matter who’s starting though, it matters who plays the most, and that was Jones, who had 33 minutes to Brooks’ 13.

    Key Matchups:

    – Jimmy Butler vs. Devin Booker

    – Andrew Wiggins vs. T.J. Warren

    Just like the last matchup, it’s going to come down to better defense on the Suns’ two best players. As mentioned, the Wolves did a terrible job of containing these two and it really allowed the Suns to stay in the game long enough to strike.

    Butler admitted after the first game he did not perform his best and took some blame, so it will be key for him to rectify that with better play tonight.

    Then again, the Wolves did just allow Wayne Ellington to sink six 3-pointers against them, so all bets are off.

    Meanwhile, Warren beat the Wolves back in transition a number of times for easy layups. Some call it “cherry picking”, but it’s part of Warren’s game so the Wolves need to be prepared for it one way or another. If someone is taking a 3-pointer and Warren is closing out, best to run back on defense.

    The addition of Monroe adds a little bit more to the post offense, but generally the Suns will run up and down and look to get Booker and Warren all their shots.

    If Booker is forced to sit this game, there’s no excuse for the Wolves in this one. The spacing Booker provides will be non-existent no matter who they replace him with in the lineup. It’s a victory they must take to prove they’re ready for the next step.

    Projected Lineups:

    Tyus Jones – PG

    Jimmy Butler – SG

    Andrew Wiggins – SF

    Taj Gibson – PF

    Kar-Anthony Towns -C

    vs.

    Tyler Ulis – PG

    Josh Jackson – SG

    T.J. Warren – SF

    Greg Monroe – PF

    Tyson Chandler – C

    Injuries:

    Nemanja Bjelica (foot) – OUT

    Justin Patton (foot) – OUT

    Jeff Teague (Achilles) – OUT

    Dragan Bender (face) – PROBABLE

    Devin Booker (toe) – OUT

    Brandon Knight (knee) – OUT

    Davon Reed (knee) – OUT

    Alan Williams (knee) – OUT

    Where to Watch:

    3:30 ET/2:30 CT on Fox Sports North

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