The Minnesota Timberwolves return from their east coast road trip 1-1. They also return with a firm grasp on one of their struggles that's doomed them throughout the majority of the season: free throw shooting!
The Wolves had their worst outing of the season from the line in Wednesday's loss to Boston, going 14-for-30 from the line, a season-worst 46.7%. In their blowout win over the Sixers the night before they had an equally poor night at the line, shooting just 58.8% from the line (10-for-17), but it was easily overlooked as the Wolves shot 53.2% from the field and 52% from downtown!
Tonight they'll face the Cleveland Cavaliers, one of last season's worst teams and, thus far this season, their record echoes much the same. The Cavs are 4-15 through their first 19 games, 2-10 on the road, 2-8 in their last ten games and losers of their last three outings.
Their struggles currently stem from injuries to their two leading scorers, who are also their starting backcourt: last year's #1 overall pick Kyrie Irving is out with a fractured finger and is expected to miss at least another week or two and the Cavs' top pick in this summer's draft (4th overall) Dion Waiters who sprained his ankle in Cleveland's loss to Portland on Saturday.
You won't find any TWolves fans feeling sorry for the Cavs and their injuries. Ricky Rubio has yet to play this season, however his return is getting closer and closer. According to Darren Wolfson (of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities) via Twitter, Rubio is angling to play tomorrow, the chances of that happening? Your guess is as good as mine. If he does play, expect limited minutes. Chances are better the Wolves wait until Dec. 12 (Wednesday), which is Minnesota's next game following this Friday night matchup. That'll give Rubio four more days of practice. The biggest concern is his conditioning, which is undoubtedly far from 100%. The Wolves will be without Brandon Roy & Chase Budinger as they continue to rehab from knee surgeries. TWolves small forward Andrei Kirilenko has missed the last four consecutive games while dealing with back spasms, hopes are high he'll return tonight vs. Cleveland, however he's a likely gametime decision in this one, if he's unable to play, Josh Howard will continue to start at small forward.
Minnesota's last game was that Wednesday night loss in Boston vs. the Celtics. The Wolves were playing their second game of a back-to-back and by the second half that became apparent. The Celtics rattled off 32 points in the third quarter to take control and by the fourth, the Wolves didn't have much left in the tank, eventually losing 94-104. Love scored 19pts, grabbed 13reb and dished 4ast, however he struggled with his ball control, turning it over 5 times AND struggled shooting the ball, finishing just 6-15 from the field. Pekovic added 14pts, 9reb, 1ast, 2stls.
The Cavaliers also played on Wednesday, vs. the Chicago Bulls. Without their two leading scorers, the struggled against the defensive dynamo that is Chicago. All five Bulls starters scored in double figures and built a 45-27 lead at one point, which they rode to an 85-95W. Backup point guard Donald Sloan scored a season-high 14pts and added 1reb, 3ast. Anderson Varejo continued his rebounding hot streak, tallying 11pts, 15reb, 3ast and 3stls. It was his 10th straight game with 15 or more rebounds, however he too struggled shooting, finishing just 4-of-16 from the field.
I'll definitely be keeping an eye on the box score throughout this one and see if Kevin Love & Nikola Pekovic can keep Varejo off the boards and halt that streak. Going into tonight's game, Varejo leads the league in rebounds per game, with 15.4 a game. Kevin Love technically isn't a league leader because he missed the first nine games of the season (playing just 8 games, thus far), however if he did, he'd be #2 on the league leaders with 14.4 a game (Nikola Pekovic ranks 35th w/7.5).
Let's take a look at tonight's probable starting lineups...
*If Andrei Kirilenko is unable to play, Josh Howard (7.7ppg, 3.4rpg, 1spg) will get the start at small forward, once again.
This is a game that the Wolves should definitely win, however they've got to come in with the same mindset as if they were playing the defending champion Miami Heat. Hitting some free throws wouldn't hurt either.
Tipoff for this one is set for 7pmCT from the Target Center and a full gameday recap can be found on this site following the final horn. Until then, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!