Scouting Report: Wolves vs. Suns

Wolves (25-32) vs. Suns (29-27) - 8 PM Target Center
Where to Watch: ESPN2
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.

The Minnesota Timberwolves return home tonight with a shot at winning their season series against the Phoenix Suns in front of a national audience. When the Wolves and Suns tip off at 8 p.m. tonight at Target Center, they’ll do so on ESPN2 with heavy playoff implications on the line.

The Suns have surged since the two teams last met on March 12, going 10-5 since losing to the Wolves that night in Phoenix. That surge has sent the Suns to within one game of the eighth and final playoff spot—they currently trail Denver in the standings and are fending off Utah, which sits 0.5 games back in the 10th spot. Only 2.5 games separate the sixth seed from the 10th seed in the Western Conference’s playoff race, and every game matters.

The Wolves were in the middle of that playoff race the last time these two teams met, but Minnesota has gone 3-11 since that 127-124 win in the desert and currently sit 5.5 games out of the playoff hunt. Tonight, Minnesota not only hopes to spoil Phoenix’s playoff chase, but they also hope to end their own season-high five-game losing streak in the process. Minnesota’s last win came on March 28, a 88-83 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.

Minnesota has played three of their last 14 games at home, going 1-2 in that span. Their last home victory was a 117-100 win over the Denver Nuggets on March 25. The Wolves are 13-14 at Target Center this season, while Phoenix is 12-16 away from home.

Last time out

Coming off a 104-95 loss in their first meeting of the season, Minnesota stormed back to beat the Suns 127-124 on March 12 at US Airways Center. Six Timberwolves scored in double-figures during a shootout-like game in Phoenix, led by Kevin Love’s 30 points. Center Nikola Pekovic had 24 points, Derrick Williams added 19, Michael Beasley and Wayne Ellington each had 15 and Luke Ridnour had 10. The Wolves shot 14-for-22 from 3-point range in the game and connected on 56.2 percent of their shots from the field on the night while dishing out 30 team assists. The Suns also had an efficient offensive night, led by Jared Dudley’s 28 points and Steve Nash’s 25 points and 10 assists. But even though Phoenix came back to take a multiple leads in the fourth—the latest being a 120-119 advantage with 2:19 to play—the Wolves held on for the victory.

Key matchup: Shooting guard play

Wolves Minute with John Focke

The Suns lost small forward Grant Hill to a right knee injury on March 25, but since he went down they’ve adjusted and become a difficult team to stop on the wing. With Dudley moving to fill Hill’s starting spot, Shannon Brown and Michael Redd have combined to thrive at shooting guard. Over the past four games alone—a stint in which Phoenix is 3-1—the two have each scored in double-digits in each game with Brown scoring 16.2 points and Redd adding 19.0 points per night. In Phoenix’s 125-105 win against the Lakers on Saturday, Brown scored 24 points while Redd chipped in 23.

The Timberwolves’ shooting guard contributions have been streaky this season, but with the Suns boasting perennial All-Star Steve Nash at point guard and center Marcin Gortat down low, winning battles at the shooting guard and small forward positions tonight will be crucial. Wayne Ellington has put up double-figures in six of his past 10 games, most recently scoring 16 points against Golden State on Wednesday night. He shot 3-for-5 from 3-point range and connected on 63 percent of his shots from the field on the night.

Love’s strong season continues

Wolves forward Kevin Love continues to put up big numbers each night he steps out on the court. He’s averaging 26.8 points per game in four contests this month and still sits fourth in scoring and second in rebounding among NBA players this season. His 47 double-doubles and 39.6 minutes per game each lead the league. Love has put up efficient numbers against the Suns this season, scoring 23 points and adding 10 rebounds in the Wolves’ March 1 loss and following it up with 30 points and seven boards in their March 12 win.

Gortat vs. Pekovic

Center Marcin Gortat and Nikola Pekovic will be a pivotal matchup tonight at Target Center, because when Pekovic bottled up Gortat in the teams’ second meeting it paved the way for Minnesota’s 127-124 victory. Pekovic had 14 points and nine rebounds in the teams’ first meeting and followed it up with 24 points and eight rebounds in Minnesota’s March 12 win. Gortat had 17 points and six rebounds in the first game and followed it up with eight points and four boards in the second matchup.

The Nash factor

All-Star point guard Steve Nash continues to produce at age 38, and when he faces the Timberwolves it is no different. Nash had 27 assists this season and two double-doubles in two games against Minnesota, including 17 assists in the first matchup and a 25-point effort in the second. The key is forcing Nash to score. When Nash is at his best he is driving and dishing to his teammates, which spreads the floor and creates more offensive opportunities for the Suns. Minnesota will try to force Nash into a scoring role tonight, which in turn could make the Suns’ offense easier to contain.

You can become a part of the Wolves Radio Network by Howling at the Wolves during halftime! Just tweet questions to @WolvesRadio or @JWFocke and Studio Host John Focke and Coach Steve Brown will answer them on 830 WCCO and the Wolves Radio Network.
For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter.