What To Watch For: Wolves' 4-Game Road Trip

What To Watch For: Wolves' 4-Game Road Trip

The Timberwolves hit the road tonight for their first four-game road trip of the season. This particular trip is the second-longest of the year (only the 12-day, five-game trip at the end of February/early March is longer) and will take the team approximately 4,000 miles in the air over its course.

So we thought we’d give you a rundown of what to expect from these games as you away the next Timberwolves home game on Jan. 29 against New Orleans. Below is a quick list of when Minnesota is playing over the next seven days and what to watch for during this West Coast trip.

The Schedule (records as of Jan. 21):

Tuesday, Jan. 21: @ Utah (14-28, 15th in West) — 8 PM CT on Fox Sports North and 830 WCCO-AM
Friday, Jan. 24: @ Golden State (26-17, 6th in West) — 9:30 PM CT on Fox Sports North, NBATV and 830 WCCO-AM
Saturday, Jan. 25: @ Portland (31-10, 2nd in West) — 9:00 PM CT on NBATV and 830 WCCO-AM
Monday, Jan. 27: @ Chicago (20-20, 6th in East) — 7 PM CT on Fox Sports North, NBATV and 830 WCCO-AM

What To Watch For:

  • Handling Consecutive Games Against Utah: The Wolves held the Jazz to 28.8 percent shooting and led by as many as 36 in their 98-72 win over Utah on Saturday night at Target Center. The win was significant on a few levels for the franchise, including the fewest points allowed in a first half in Wolves history (23) and the second lowest field goal percentage allowed in the team’s 25 years.

    So how do you follow that up?

    Good question. The Jazz will likely have a much better performance from the field this time around, they’ll be prepared to scheme against Minnesota’s vast advantage in the paint (50-18 points in the paint edge on Saturday as well as a 60-42 rebounding advantage). And they’ll have the benefit of playing at EnergySolutions Arena, where the Wolves are 11-39 lifetime. As Kevin Love said, there’s a culture within that franchise that instills a physical brand of basketball—and they showcase it at home.

    “I don’t know if it’s an aura about it, or you know so many good teams have come through there,” Love said. “They always play physical, they always play hard even when they miss a lot of shots like they did the other night. So it’s kind of just instilled in that organization that they play hard, they play to win and it’s just a tough place to play.”

  • Continuing The Defensive Communication: Media members lauded the Wolves for their noticeable communication on the defensive end last time out against Utah, and it’s something that the Wolves desperately need to continue if they’re going to put together a string of victories in the coming weeks. Offense has never been a question for this team, but dating back to Training Camp in Mankato the Wolves have discussed the need for overly communicating on defense in order to get stops throughout games. Coach Rick Adelman was concerned about it in early October, and one of the constants this year has been being able to work together as one in their defensive sets. Saturday’s game was one of the best performances of the year in that category.

    “I think we realize we have to make a change on defense,” Kevin Martin said. “And that’s one of the things our big guys did the other night. They led the way talking defensively, and hopefully that can carry over to Tuesday night and then we’ll start playing better teams.”

  • Pekovic’s Presence: Nikola Pekovic continues to showcase why the Wolves put a premium on signing him long-term this offseason as a restricted free agent. He’s becoming the force down low Minnesota envisioned, and despite the uphill battle centers face in All-Star consideration Pekovic has put himself in position to at least join that conversation. For the year, he’s averaging 18.3 points per game and 9.2 boards (4.2 offensive) and has a 20.8 player efficiency rating—second highest on the team behind Love and just outside the current top 20 in the NBA.

    Over the past two months, he’s upped his game. He averaged 20.7 points and 9.8 boards in December and is averaging 20.9 points and 9.3 boards in January. His 56.3 percent field goal percentage this month is his best of the season, and the Wolves are certainly giving him more touches around the basket.

  • Navigating The West Coast: It’s never easy making a West Coast road trip. I’m not sure if it’s the time difference, the long flights between cities or the quality of teams waiting for you out there, but long stints out West are always difficult. This particular trip will include the No. 2 team in the West (Portland), which is a major surprise at the top of the conference, and an expected power house (Golden State) that has battled injuries and ups and downs but has also put together a double-digit win streak this season.

    The Wolves are in position to showcase themselves a bit against these elite Western Conference teams. It will not be easy, but if Minnesota can pull an upset or two it will help balance out a few of those losses earlier in the season that the team let slip away.

    And at 7-13 away from Target Center, the time is now to make it happen.

    “We need to win on the road, plain and simple,” Love said. “We face some very tough teams, very tough places to play, but we feel like we need to hold down our home court but we also need to win games on the road. We really need to see what we can do if we’re going to be where this team wants to be.”

  • K-Mart’s Outside Shooting: As important as Love and Pekovic are inside, Kevin Martin’s ability to hit from the perimeter is crucial to this team’s inside-out philosophy. When the team was winning in November, they got that production from Martin ever night. In December and January, it’s been a bit more inconsistent. He had 12 20-point games by Dec. 1 (including three 30-point games), but in December and January he’s had a combined six (no 30-point efforts).

    Adelman said part of it is being aggressive and taking his shots. Martin said part of it is also taking what the defense gives him and understanding when it’s best to attack outside or try to feed it into Love and Pek.

    In any event, getting Martin back on track consistently will be key. He doesn’t need to register 30-point efforts all the time, but his consistency is needed. He shot 44 percent from 3-point range in November but has shot sub-34 percent since.

    “You can always get better but as a team you can’t just lock in with the inside,” Martin said. “And we’ve got guys that can hit open shots on the outside and just more importantly put the ball in the hole.”

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