The Minnesota Timberwolves begin the 2013-14 regular season on October 30th when they take on the Orlando Magic at the Target Center. Wednesday's game is the first game in a season of very big expectations. The Wolves are looking to end their decade-long playoff drought and it all begins vs. the Magic this week.
The Wolves will then have a day off and then they're division rivals: the Oklahoma City Thunder. For the last few years, these two teams have had incredible matchups highlighted by that double overtime loss in Oklahoma City two years ago in March.
Let's take a look at the Wolves' likely starting lineup (all stats are from the 2012-13 regular season) for these two games...
Rick Adelman hasn't yet decided on who to start at small forward. It sounds as though it's down to either Corey Brewer or Derrick Williams. However, in this week's games, it seems likely that Adelman will have to go with Brewer--especially in Friday's game vs. the Thunder (against Kevin Durant). It's obvious that Adelman prefers Brewer's energy off the bench, however when it's all said and done, Corey should still see 30+ minutes a night.
Rick Adelman has also said he'd like to use a 10-man rotation to begin the season, but he may have to go with 11 for the first couple weeks. That 10-man rotation likely includes the 5 listed above in addition to: J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Derrick Williams, Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf. The 11th player could be: A.J. Price, Robbie Hummel or Gorgui Dieng.
Minnesota finished the preseason 4-3 with a finale loss to the Pistons in Detroit on last-second Josh Smith three-point buzzer-beater, last Thursday. Last season the Wolves finished last season 31-51.
Now with a (nearly) completely healthy roster the Wolves will look to end their nine-year playoff drought. Most experts/analysts have the Wolves finishing with anywhere from 41 to 52 wins this year, good enough for anywhere from the 5th seed to the 8th seed.
Oct. 30 vs. Orlando Magic
For the 13th-consecutive season, the Minnesota Timberwolves will open up the regular season at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Last year the opener was vs. the Orlando Magic, tonight it'll be the Orlando Magic, who they went 1-1 against in 2012-13.
Orlando is one of the team's going through the rebuilding process this season. Perhaps not as extreme as the Philadelphia 76ers or Phoenix Suns, but they aren't looking to compete for it all, just yet. Unlike the Sixers and (to a lesser extent) the Suns, the Magic have a lot of talented young players that should still allow them to 30 wins this season.
The biggest question for Orlando is how long their veterans will be on the roster. There's very little doubt that as we approach the Trade Deadline, you'll hear Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo and Hedo Turkoglu floated in many a trade rumor. Turkoglu has a large $11M+ contract and they haven't come to terms on a buyout so he's been asked to stay away from the team--much like the Raja Bell situation these past couple years in Utah (though there doesn't seem to be as much bad blood in this situation).
The Magic played on Tuesday night vs. the Indiana Pacers and dropped their regular season opener, 87-97 (in Indiana). The Pacers went on a 17-4 run to start the fourth quarter to put away Orlando for the win.
Let's take a look at Wednesday's likely starting lineup...
The Magic will begin the season mixing some veteran talent along with their young guns in their starting lineup. Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo should lead the team in scoring and they make for a pretty talented starting backcourt. I'd expect both to have a change of address by the end of the season.
I still don't understand why Jason Maxiell joined the Magic and even more that he's the starting power forward! Tobias Harris had a breakout season starting at the four for the Magic a year ago, now he's coming off the bench (though he is currently out with a sprained ankle).
The Magic will be without Harris (ankle) as well as guard Doron Lamb (sprained ankle) for this game.
The Wolves will have an upperhand, being that Wednesday's game is the second in a string of back-to-backs for Orlando, however the Wolves can't begin the game lethargic like they did vs. CSKA Moscow. There's no doubt that the Wolves may have one of the best offenses in the NBA. The Wolves could have two 20+ scorers (Martin & Love) on the roster in addition to the playmaking of Rubio and the 13-17 points a night they'll get from Peković.
The concern will be defense, however Rick Adelman should be able to turn the shortcomings of individual players (Martin, Love, Peković) and make the team collectively better.
The Wolves should have little trouble with the Magic. Minnesota has to exploit the Maxiell-Love matchup and Peković has to win the Nikola battle. I'll be interested to see if Afflalo can slow down the offensive firepower of K-Mart. I would be surprised if the Wolves don't win this one by double digits.
Let's take a look at Friday's matchup vs. division rivals: OKC Thunder...
Nov. 1 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Wolves went 4-12 in the Northwest division in 2012-13. Two of those wins came over the team that won the division: the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder should win the division again this season, but the big concern will be how they can get along until Russell Westbrook returns from his knee injury.
I read a report from Woj that said Westbrook could return within two weeks, that was as of Tuesday afternoon. Obviously he won't play in this one. Reggie Jackson will get the start in his place, let's take a look at the rest of the likely starters...
Reggie Jackson showed he's capable of running the point last year in the postseason when Westbrook went down against the Houston Rockets for the year. Jackson and Derek Fisher will run the point in his stead.
Without Russell, Durant should put up some pretty incredible numbers to begin the season. I wouldn't be surprised if he averaged 40 a night for the first few weeks of the season (he won't, but he COULD). The Thunder also need offensive help from second-year Jeremy Lamb as well as defensive big man Serge Ibaka.
I like the Wolves' odds in this one. If Corey Brewer can slow down Durant even a little bit, the Minnesota should have enough offensive firepower to overcome their rivals.
I know that the Wolves don't really have any rivals in the NBA, but I think this has quickly become one. I definitely consider them rivals. In the NFL the Packers and the Vikings are rivals, much because Lambeau & the Metrodome are a mere four hours apart. Milwaukee and Minneapolis are close themselves, but we all know that the Wolves and the Bucks are NOT rivals. With the battles these two teams have had these past few years, highlighted by that 2011-12 game in March in which Love scored 51, Westbrook & Durant each scored 40 apiece and the Wolves lost in double overtime.
The Thunder had a Top 10 team in assists, rebounds and defense (points allowed) and they ranked third in the NBA in offense (points per game).
The Wolves went 2-2 against the Thunder last year and for zero of those games did the Wolves have a completely healthy roster. The Wolves are without Chase Budinger, but the big names are back (Love, Rubio & Peković).
This will mark Kevin Martin's first game against his former team. The Thunder traded away James Harden a season ago to the Houston Rockets and in return received Toronto's first-round pick in the 2013 Draft (used to select center Steven Adams) as well as Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb. Martin played just one season with OKC as the team's sixth man. Now, K-Mart is back in a starters role and back with the coach and the offensive system that allowed him his most successful seasons. Should be a good matchup against two guys that used to go at each other in practice (Sefelosha & Kevin).
Both games will tip at 7pmCT, both from the Target Center! We'll have gameday recaps following both contests, enjoy the games!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!