Scouting Report: Wolves at Suns
Wolves (18-18) at Suns (14-20) - 8 PM US Airways Center
Where to Watch: Fox Sports North
Where to Listen: 830 AM WCCO
*Get your questions on the radio airwaves during halftime! Just tweet questions to @WolvesRadio and listen to the halftime show hosted by John Focke on WCCO 830 AM.
Playing on consecutive days has taken its toll on the Timberwolves this season—after Wednesday’s 104-85 loss to the Lakers, Minnesota dropped to 3-9 in games played the night following another game. Tonight, the Wolves finish up their final back-to-back-to-back stretch of the season on the road against Phoenix. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. at US Airways Center.
This is the first meeting of the season between the Timberwolves and the Suns. Phoenix currently sits 14-20 in the Pacific Division and holds a 7-9 record at home. They’re 2-5 in their last seven games and have been streaky—they’ve compiled a four-game and a five-game losing streak so far this season. Tonight will be the third consecutive game Minnesota will face a team in its first game since the All-Star Break—Phoenix last played on Feb. 22, a 106-104 loss to Golden State.
Missing Love’s presence
Minnesota played the Lakers without All-Star forward Kevin Love, who was inactivated just before game time with flu-like symptoms. Love suffered a rib contusion the night before against the Clippers, but it was the illness that kept him out of Wednesday’s tilt. Without him, the Wolves struggled to replace his 24.5 points and 13.8 rebounds per game, but perhaps most glaring was their ability to get to the line. Love averages 8.6 free-throw attempts per night, and his assertive play forces opposing teams into the bonus earlier in quarters. Without him, the team went 10-of-18 from the line on Thursday.
Key matchup: Nash vs. Rubio
Wolves Minute with John Focke
As rookie guard Ricky Rubio makes his first tour through the NBA schedule, we’ve been treated with seeing him play for the first time against some of the point guards who have played at an elite level over the past decade. Tonight is again one of those nights, as Rubio will square off against perennial All-Star Steve Nash. Nash, 38, is in his 16th season and is a two-time league MVP. He’s averaged 8.6 assists over his career, many of them coming in highlight-reel fashion. His ability to find open teammates is something he seems to share with Rubio, who in his rookie season is fifth in the league with 8.4 assists per game. Rubio is currently in a shooting drought—he’s scored 12 combined points in his last three games since scoring 16 against Denver on Feb. 20, but he’s also averaging 8.0 assists per night during that stretch.
Gortat continues to shine
Suns center Marcin Gortat played stellar for Phoenix during the first half of the regular season. At 6-foot-10, Gortat has started all 34 games for the Suns this year—the most he’s ever started in a season during his six-year career—and is leading the team with 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per night. Both are career highs. Over the month of February, Gortat scored 17.2 points and 11.0 rebounds a night, and he has scored at least 20 points and put up at least 15 boards in three of his past four games.
Another player to watch on the Suns’ squad is Jared Dudley. He’s averaging 30 minutes per night, and his 11.7 points per game is the best total of his six-year career. Dudley has scored 15 or more points 11 times this season with his season-high being 25, but he has not scored in double figures in consecutive games since Feb. 11-13—a span of six games. Last time out, he scored 17 points in the Suns’ loss to Golden State.
Players stepping up
In the past two games, Minnesota has had players step up in the absence of Love on the court. On Tuesday with Love on the bench with a rib injury, forwards Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams each chipped in 27 points and the Wolves’ bench outscored the Clippers’ reserves 72-11. On Wednesday against the Lakers, Beasley again shared the team high in points with guard Martell Webster—each scoring 14 points in the game. If Love is unable to play tonight, the Wolves must find a way to make up for Love’s consistency on the floor. That holds true on the glass, where center Nikola Pekovic picked up a team-high four offensive rebounds on Wednesday. Williams got the start at power forward on Wednesday and played 28 minutes. Forward Anthony Randolph picked up significant time after being activated in Love's place, scoring 12 points and adding nine rebounds in 19 minutes. Center Darko Milicic also logged 18 minutes in Wednesday's game.
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