The Minnesota Timberwolves have a chance to get back on track as they host the enigmatic Orlando Magic on Friday night at Target Center.
The Minnesota Timberwolves hosted an inferior, Eastern Conference opponent at Target Center exactly one week ago in the Atlanta Hawks, then with just nine wins.
The Wolves responded by opening a three-game road trip with an impressive win in Miami before losing to an Anthony Davis-less Pelicans team in New Orleans and a Kyrie Irving-less Celtics team in Boston.
Minnesota remains in the No. 13 spot in the Western Conference with a 17-21 record, four games behind the eighth-place Lakers, who the Wolves play on Sunday afternoon. The Magic have a 17-20 record but are in a virtual tie for ninth place in the East alongside Brooklyn and just a half-game behind Detroit for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Wolves will be without Robert Covington for the foreseeable future after the team announced that he has a bone bruise in his knee. Jeff Teague, on the other hand, is listed as probable to return on Friday after missing the last nine games due to knee inflammation. Also, Derrick Rose was upgraded form doubtful to questionable prior to the matchup with the Magic.
Here’s what to pay attention to on Friday night.
1. Can Karl-Anthony Towns bring it from the opening tip?
Karl-Anthony Towns is on a tear of late, averaging 28.2 points, 17.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and three blocks per game over the Wolves’ last five contests.
The team is just 2-3 in that stretch, however, and Towns has had an issue with slow starts more than a couple times recently. He needs to bring the intensity that he’s played with in the third and fourth quarters of games as soon as the game starts if a nicked-up Wolves team is going to have a shot at staying within striking distance of the playoff field in the West.
2. Potential rotation adjustments
With the probably return of Teague and possible return of Rose, Tom Thibodeau will have to figure out how he will rotate that duo with Tyus Jones, who has averaged 13.7 points and nine assists as a starter since Rose’s injury.
The Wolves have played their best basketball with Jones on the floor over the last couple of weeks, but the team could certainly use an injection of scoring from Rose and Teague with Covington remaining out.
Thibodeau would also be wise to not overexert either Teague or Rose, either, given their respective injury histories with their current ailments.
3. Keeping Evan Fournier in check
Evan Fournier is averaging just 14.9 points per game this year, his lowest scoring average since 2014-15, his third year in the league.
In fact, Fournier is averaging only 10.5 points per game over his last four contests and has scored in single digits nine times already this year — this coming from a guy who averaged north of 17 points per game each of the last two seasons.
Fournier has always played well against the Wolves, however. Last year, he dropped 32 points and made six 3-pointers in a home win over Minnesota. You may remember that game as the one in which Nemanja Bjelica and Arron Afflalo exchanged pleasantries and were ejected. Both players have moved on, however, so no such luck this time around.
The Wolves need to do a good job defending the perimeter in this one. They’ll no doubt put Josh Okogie on Fournier from the start, but keeping him in his current rut will be key to a Wolves win.
We’ll be back after the game with our main takeaways from Wolves-Magic.