• Coming off a 100-97 loss to the Pistons last night, the Wolves head back out on the road for yet another one-game road trip. This time they faced the added difficulty of playing a back-to-back.

    Minnesota faces a Charlotte squad they’ve already taken down once this season. The first meeting was not close, with the Wolves coming out on top 112-94, but the Hornets are a much different team since that game.

    They’ve recently welcomed back Nicolas Batum after he missed the first portion of the season with an elbow injury. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also returned to the team after a short absence. Neither player was available in the first matchup.

    The Hornets are statistically an oddity at the moment. Their defense is ahead of their offense, rating 12th in the NBA in both scoring defense and defensive rating. Their offense ranks 23rd in scoring and 22nd in offensive rating.

    They play at a quick pace though, ranking ninth in the NBA in that category. Despite the quick pace, they rank in the 20s in both field-goal attempts and 3-point attempts, but commit the fewest turnovers per game in the NBA.

    One possible explanation is the high rate of fouls they draw as a team, ranking third in the the NBA, mostly thanks to Dwight Howard.

    Despite it all, it’s reasonable to expect that both the defense and offense will improve with Batum and MKG returning to the lineup, making this Hornets team a potential sleeper going forward.

    Then again they did recently lose to the Bulls while shooting 52 percent as a team and getting 47 points out of Kemba Walker. It all adds up to an inconsistent team that is probably a better team than their currently showing.

    Meanwhile the Wolves are coming off a tough loss at home to Detroit after blowing an 11-point fourth quarter lead just last night. The team struggled to guard the Jackson-Drummond pick-and-roll down the stretch and they are going to see a steady diet of that again here with Walker and Howard.

    Key Matchups:

    – Towns vs. Howard

    – Wiggins vs. Kidd-Glichrist

    Once again it’s going to come down to Towns on the defense. Teams are exploiting him whenever they get a chance, whether it’s on pick-and-rolls, or making him pay for over-extending help and bad judgement gambles, or simply in transition defense.

    As Dane Moore breaks down below, it’s pretty much everything that’s plaguing Towns at the moment

    The Wolves don’t need Towns to become an All-NBA defender overnight, but they need him to clean up the plays like this. The fruitless block attempts in the lane that make it seem like he’s defending when he’s really hurting his team by playing out of position. The attempts to steal the ball in transition, forcing his teammates to rotate to the paint.

    The pick-and-roll defense, and one-on-one defense will come in time with more practice. Right now he needs to cut out the simple mistakes, especially against teams like the Hornets who move the ball well and can shoot from distance. Howard will plant himself in the lane and that’s where Towns needs to meet him.

    Perhaps Towns will get a little bit of help from Wiggins tonight on some double teams or in pick-and-roll defense. Wiggins will likely be checking MKG, who is not a major scoring threat on the perimeter.

    The Wolves got bit when guys had to help and were out of position to guard their own man in certain situations, but leaving MKG open on the perimeter isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Much like last night with Stanley Johnson, it might be worthy for the Wolves to take the lesser of evils and allow MKG to shoot a jump shot.

    Projected Lineups:

    Jeff Teague – PG

    Jimmy Butler – SG

    Andrew Wiggins – SF

    Taj Gibson – PF

    Karl-Anthony Towns – C

    vs.

    Kemba Walker – PG

    Nicolas Batum – SG

    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – SF

    Marvin Williams – PF

    Dwight Howard – C

    Injuries:

    Jamal Crawford (migraines) – QUESTIONABLE

    Justin Patton (foot) – OUT

    Jeremy Lamb (hamstring) – QUESTIONABLE

    Julyan Stone (hamstring) – QUESTIONABLE

    Where to Watch:

    7:00 ET/6:00 CT on Fox Sports North

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