Scouting Report: Wolves at Suns

Wolves (21-21) at Suns (19-21) - 9 PM US Airways Center
Where to Watch: Fox Sports North
Where to Listen: 830 AM WCCO

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The Timberwolves expressed the importance of their upcoming seven-game road trip as they left Target Center after Saturday’s loss to New Orleans. With the team sitting one game behind Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot, putting together a string of consistent basketball over the next two weeks could be make or break for their postseason chances.

It begins tonight in Phoenix, where the Wolves and Suns will meet for the second time this season. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. at US Airways Center.

The Timberwolves are currently on a two-game losing streak, finishing their 2-2 homestand with losses to Los Angeles on Friday and New Orleans on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Suns are beginning to play some of their best basketball of the season. Phoenix has won its last two games and seven of their last nine since a four-game losing streak from Feb. 13-17. They’ve won five straight home games since starting the season with a 7-12 record at US Airways Center.

Last meeting

The Timberwolves simply didn’t have an answer for Suns forward Grant Hill in their 104-95 loss to Phoenix on March 1. Hill finished with 20 points and five rebounds in the game—his first 20-point effort since the 2010-11 season. Meanwhile, Steve Nash finished with 13 points and 17 assists in the game, while center Marcin Gortat scored 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Phoenix put together an efficient offensive game, shooting 53.2 percent overall while dishing off 27 assists. Meanwhile, Minnesota went cold in the third quarter and allowed the Suns to take control of the game. Minnesota shot 1-for-13 on the night from 3-point range and 81.3 percent from the free-throw line.

All five Timberwolves starters scored 10 or more points in the game, including 23 points and 10 rebounds from Kevin Love, who returned after missing the previous game with flu-like symptoms against the Lakers. Love also missed the Wolves’ matchup with Los Angeles on Friday before returning on Saturday against the Hornets—this time with back spasms. Love still leads the league with 39.9 minutes per game this season, and in the five games he’s played in March he has not played fewer than 40 minutes. He’s averaging 42.4 minutes per game this month.

Key matchup: Nash vs. Ridnour

Wolves Minute with John Focke

Nash, the former two-time MVP, is leading the league with 11.0 assists per game this season and shows no signs of slowing down at age 38. He still brings a creativity to the floor and a style of play that opens up shots and lanes to the basket for his teammates. This time around, he’ll be facing the Wolves without rookie guard Ricky Rubio, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee on Friday and will miss the rest of the season. Guard Luke Ridnour will get the nod against Nash and will likely get the bulk of the minutes depending on the health of guard JJ Barea, who has missed the past two games with a sprained left ankle. Wolves rookie Malcolm Lee logged five minutes last game against the Hornets but will likely be used in a limited role if Barea isn’t available. Ridnour finished with 14 points and 10 assists on Saturday—his first start at point guard since mid-January.

Containing Gortat

Marcin Gortat has continued to put up big numbers for the Suns this season, and his ability to provide an inside presence could be a factor in tonight’s game. He’s averaging 16.2 points and 10.6 rebounds per game this season, He’s elevated his game in March, averaging 18.0 points and 11.5 boards in his last six contests. He’ll have his hands full tonight against Wolves center Nikola Pekovic, who has averaged 23.0 points and 12.0 rebounds in his past two games since missing two games with a sore right foot. Pekovic has 12 offensive rebounds in his past two games and is a big part of Minnesota’s ability pile up second chance points.

Finding their rhythm

Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said the Wolves didn’t find a rhythm on either end of the floor during Saturday’s loss to New Orleans. The Wolves struggled defensively, allowing the Hornets to get open looks at the basket while only forcing 12 turnovers in the game. Meanwhile, Minnesota shot 41.3 percent from the floor and 21.7 percent from 3-point range. Pekovic, Love and guard Wayne Ellington combined for 64 points on 24-of-44 shooting in the 95-89 defeat, while the rest of the team finished 9-of-36 from the floor.

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