Scouting Report: Wolves vs. Suns
Wolves Editorial Associate
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Wolves (13-13) vs Suns (11-19) — 7:00 PM Target Center
Where to Watch: My 29
Where to Listen: 830 WCCO-AM
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Reeling after close, three-point losses to both New York and Houston, the Minnesota Timberwolves will hope to close December out strong with a win against the visiting Phoenix Suns. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on My 29 and 830 WCCO-AM.
On Wednesday the Wolves largely succeeded defensively, holding Houston—the highest-scoring team in the league—to just 87 points. But their offense stalled for stretches at a time, leading to a 87-84 loss to the Rockets in a sold-out Target Center on Wednesday night. Minnesota struggled in the first quarter, shooting just 25 percent from the field—a season low. They had a much better second quarter when Alexey Shved scored back-to-back baskets to regain the lead for the Wolves, and a 25-6 run between the second and third quarters gave them a lead by as much as 14.
With the Wolves up by three going into the fourth quarter, Harden exploded for 17 points. He brought the Rockets to a 87-84 advantage with 11 seconds left, where coach Rick Adelman ran a play and Shved got the final look, eventually missing an attempt from the perimeter and sealing the game for Houston.
The Suns have been a team of streaks lately, starting with a seven-game losing streak starting in November. From there, they won their next four, and now they’re back to a three-game slump. They’re 11-18 overall, and they struggle on the road. Their only wins away from home are on the home courts of Charlotte and Cleveland, two teams with a combined 14-44 record.
Their offensive attack is led by Goran Dragic, who is averaging 14.1 points per game along with 6.2 assists. Then there’s a surprisingly well-rounded logjam when you consider the No. 2 scoring option in Phoenix, as five different players—Shannon Brown, Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat and Michael Beasley—all average between 10 and 12 PPG. Gortat is leading his team in rebounding with 8.5 per game, and he’s averaging a career-best 2.0 blocks per game as well.
The Suns have lost four in a row, their latest defeat coming in Indiana on Friday. The Pacers picked up a 97-91 win despite six Suns players, including all five starters, scoring in double figures.
Last Time Out: April 9, 2012
Markieff Morris scored 21 points and Steve Nash had 14 points and six assists for a Phoenix club that beat down the slumping Wolves. The Suns pushed their record to 16-7 after the All-Star break, and moved one game closer to a Western Conference playoff berth.
Kevin Love had 25 points and 13 boards for Minnesota, who lost their sixth straight contest. JJ Barea added 16 points and Michael Beasley scored 12. The loss was the 22nd straight for the Wolves in April, dating back to 2009.
Key Matchup: Marcin Gortat and Nikola Pekovic
The Wolves are hoping for a bounce back game from Pekovic. The big center was ill and scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting Wednesday night against the Rockets, and he left the contest around halftime after feeling too fatigued to continue. Kevin Love slid over to center at that point, and 36 minutes were opened up for bench forward Dante Cunningham. Minnesota needs Pekovic, as Houston’s Omar Asik began to push his way around, collecting a game-high 17 rebounds. Pekovic is the physical rock in the middle of Minnesota’s paint that they need to keep a stout presence down low.
Gortat, although averaging lower numbers than last year, is still a solid option at center and could be primed for a big night if Pekovic is not ready. After questioning his role at the beginning of the year, Gortat has put together some nice performances lately, including double-doubles in recent wins against Utah and Sacramento. Pekovic must rebound from Wednesday and return to his peak form.
The Suns have listed Goran Dragic as questionable for tonight’s game after suffering hip, wrist and back injuries in a fall against the New York Knicks on Wednesday. He missed last night’s game against the Indiana Pacers.
|Tonight's Probable Starters|
|PG||Luke Ridnour||Goran Dragic*|
|SG||Alexey Shved||Shannon Brown|
|SF||Andrei Kirilenko||Jared Dudley|
|PF||Kevin Love||Luis Scola|
|C||Nikola Pekovic||Marcin Gortat|
*-Questionable for tonight's game