2024 Playoffs: West First Round | Timberwolves (3) vs. Suns (6)

NBA Playoffs: What to expect in Timberwolves-Suns series

Minnesota has relied on its defense all season, but will be tested in its first-round matchup with Phoenix.

The Wolves may need a big series from young star Anthony Edwards, who averaged 23.6 points this season.

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This seems, on the surface, a role-reversal 3-6 matchup, if only because the lower-seeded Suns hold star power and, in Kevin Durant, a proven champion over the Wolves. Also, the Suns swept the three-game season series by a total of 47 points.

And so, while the Wolves have home-court advantage, that might be their only evident edge. Their top-ranked defense works better against 28 other teams. This is a playoff series the basketball world, for what it’s worth, will favor the team that’s an underdog only in the seeding.

Series schedule

Here’s how to watch the Wolves vs. Suns series:

All times Eastern Standard Time

  • Game 1: Suns vs. Timberwolves; Saturday, April 20 (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
  • Game 2: Suns vs. Timberwolves; Tuesday, April 23 (7:30 p.m., TNT)
  • Game 3: Timberwolves vs. Suns; Friday, April 26 (10:30 p.m., ESPN)
  • Game 4: Timberwolves vs. Suns; Sunday, April 28 (9:30 p.m., TNT)
  • Game 5: Suns vs. Timberwolves; Tuesday, April 30 (TBD, TBD)*
  • Game 6: Timberwolves vs. Suns; Thursday, May 2 (TBD, TBD)*
  • Game 7: Suns vs. Timberwolves; Saturday, May 4 (TBD, TNT)* 

* = If necessary

Top storyline

Can Wolves handle the Suns’ momentum? Nobody enjoyed a better April than the Suns except the exhausted Easter Bunny. They went 10-4 to conquer a tough finishing schedule — beating the Wolves, Nuggets, Cavs, Clippers, Pelicans and Kings — to dodge the SoFi Play-In Tournament and a first-round matchup with Denver.

The Suns are starting the postseason with the wind at their back. All the legitimate issues regarding their lack of depth and a functional point guard were placed aside. The playmaking and shotmaking skills of Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal are supreme and often overwhelm this team’s weaknesses. 

This creates an obvious challenge for the defensive-minded Wolves: Minnesota thrived on that side of the court all season, and it bailed them out during Karl-Anthony Towns’ injury absence.

Speaking of the obvious, the Wolves do own an ace card. Anthony Edwards could prove the starriest player in this series. Could that be enough for Minny?

Keep your eyes on

The resurgence, or rust, from Towns: Towns missed 18 games with a meniscus tear, playing only twice between March 4 and when this series begins Saturday. Was that enough reps for a player the Wolves will heavily lean on offensively?

Before the injury, Towns was his efficient self, shooting 50% overall and 41% from deep. That’s key — in this series, the Wolves might need to keep up scoring-wise (to a degree) with the Suns. Towns is their only player, besides Edwards, who’s a proven 20-point getter.

But again, here in the playoffs, he’ll need to go from zero to 60 with all the missed playing time. We’ll know soon enough whether he is refreshed by it, or rusted.

1 more thing to watch for each team

For Timberwolves: Gobert will be the favorite to win Kia Defensive Player of the Year, which would be a record-tying fourth. His rim protection was solid all season — in terms of intimidation as much, if not more, than shot-blocking — and he was stellar on the boards, pulling down 13 per game.

That said, the Suns are well-equipped to “hunt” Gobert and try to pull him away from the paint with timely switches. You can imagine Durant and Booker smiling devilishly at the thought of isolating on Gobert off screens set by Jusuf Nurkic.

Gobert has improved at defending on the perimeter, however, and at times this could backfire on Phoenix. Still, it’s not his strength; the Suns, given the ability of their stars to score off the dribble, will exploit it as much as possible.

For Suns: Their approach to getting buckets is very old school. Durant, Booker and Beal are masters at the mid-range, as well as being above average from deep. Keeping all three in check is tricky.

As a bonus, they also bring Grayson Allen and his 45% accuracy from 3-point range. This team lives on the perimeter and forces teams to use double-teams against Durant and Booker.

Will the Wolves refuse to fall for that trap? It’ll be up to Naz Reid and/or Jaden McDaniels to play KD straight up. Good luck with that; KD just finished yet another remarkable season and devoured better defenders than them in the postseason.

1 key number to know

64.8% — The Wolves (in their 41 road games*) allowed their opponents to take only 64.8% of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range. That was the league’s lowest opponent rate as Minnesota ran its opponents off the 3-point line and – with the Defensive Player of the Year favorite manning the paint – kept them from getting to the rim. Forcing opponents to take the least efficient shots on the floor (those between the restricted area and the 3-point line) is a big reason why the Wolves had the league’s No. 1 defense by a wide margin.

* Using only data from road games to account for shot-charting discrepancies from arena to arena.

Of course, no team is more comfortable taking those shots than the Suns, who took 37.4% of their road shots, the league’s highest rate, between the restricted area and the 3-point line. Kevin Durant (7.7) and Devin Booker (7.2) ranked first and fourth in pull-up 2-point jumpers per game, and they combined to shoot better than 50% on those attempts.

The Suns’ ability to shoot off the dribble forces Gobert and the Wolves’ weak-side defenders (who will have to help more at the rim) to play out of their comfort zone. As it swept the season series, Phoenix scored 123.7 points per 100 possessions, the best mark against the Wolves for any Western Conference opponent.

— John Schuhmann

The pick

Suns in six. The Wolves had the second-best season in franchise history and their “reward” is getting the worst possible first-round matchup. They’re spooked by the Suns, who led by double-figures during the second halves of every meeting this season. Edwards will need an epic nightly performance just to keep it suspenseful. And he might.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

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