2/21 Game Preview: Celtics at Timberwolves
Two teams that won't see their home courts much for the next month meet Friday night in Minneapolis when the Boston Celtics visit the Minnesota Timberwolves.
One of the league's hottest teams entering the All-Star break with eight wins in their last nine games, the Celtics open a four-game trip that features a showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers in a nationally televised affair on Sunday.
Boston will also visit Portland and Utah on the six-day venture, which begins a stretch in which the Atlantic Division contender will play 12 of 18 on the road.
The Celtics will face Minnesota without All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, who is dealing with left knee soreness. Walker, a four-time All-Star, is averaging 21.8 points and 5.0 assists this season.
Boston has been far better at home (23-5) than away (15-11) this season, but has begun to turn things around on the road with three wins in the last four outings.
The Celtics have not faced Minnesota yet this season.
That being the case, it's possible the Celtics could go the entire season without having to deal with Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns, who missed Minnesota's final game before the break last Wednesday with a sprained left wrist. He remains out indefinitely.
The Celtics and Timberwolves meet for a second and final time on March 29 in Boston.
Towns had been on a nice roll before suffering the injury, having recorded five consecutive double-doubles in which he averaged 24.0 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists.
Without Towns, the Timberwolves started four relative strangers in their 115-108 home loss to Charlotte last Wednesday.
Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez, both acquired from Denver in a four-team trade that saw the Timberwolves send Robert Covington to Houston, combined for 44 points and 18 rebounds against the Hornets, while D'Angelo Russell, picked up from Golden State at the expense of Andrew Wiggins, went for 26 points and 11 assists.
James Johnson, acquired from Miami in a three-team swap in which the Timberwolves delivered Gorgui Dieng to Memphis, was a fourth newcomer in the starting lineup against Charlotte. He chipped in with five points, five rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks.
Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders noted earlier this week that Johnson will be a focal point of the offense with Towns out of action.
"In a way it will allow us to install more of our kind of free-flowing game with guards, with wings, with James handling the ball," he told reporters. "We know we're thin on the front line right now. We're going to have to be creative."
For the time being, most of that creativity will have to come on the road. After hosting the Celtics, Minnesota will play 11 of 15 away from home.
In the Celtics, the new-look Timberwolves will see a group that's become well acquainted with one another.
"We've got what a lot of teams don't have: We have five core players who have been playing two or more years together in a system that they're familiar with," Celtics guard Marcus Smart said of a group that also includes Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Walker. "They're all unique and versatile in their position where they can play multiple positions, and you don't find that very often."
Brown, who missed Boston's most recent game last Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers with a sore calf, is expected to face the Timberwolves.