The Minnesota Timberwolves are back in action Tuesday night vs. the Atlanta Hawks at the Target Center. This is the first meeting of these two teams this season.
The TWolves come into this one at 15-15 as they'll be playing their second-straight game without Kevin Love. Love re-fractured his right hand in last week's game vs. the Nuggets. The good news is, Minnesota will have Ricky Rubio & Nikola Pekovic available for tonight's game. Ricky has been dealing with some back spasms that kept him out for four-straight games, he practiced yesterday and is expected to play. Pek suffered a left hip strain in the third quarter of Saturday's loss vs. Portland. He didn't return to the court. He was held out of Monday's practice for 'precautionary reasons', but the word is that he'll play.
The Atlanta Hawks pulled off an offseason trade that sent All-Star Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets for an array of subpar players in what was ultimately a salary dump. Despite losing trading away Johnson, the Hawks have played some very good basketball this season, centralized around the play of versatile forward Josh Smith. The Hawks are currently 20-12 on the season and are sitting at #3 in the Eastern Conference standings. Coming into this season, I assumed with Atlanta's loss of JJ that they'd still be a playoff team (assuming a healthy Smith & Horford), but likely a 7th or 8th seed.
Despite trading away Johnson, the Hawks grabbed some solid players in Louis Williams (FA), Kyle Korver (trade) & Devin Harris (trade) to remain a competitive squad out East. With their early season success, I think they'll fall a bit in the standings and be the 5th or 6th seed in the East, especially considering Chicago & Indiana sit behind them in the standings.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are 15-15 on the year, 9-5 at home, 6-7 vs. the Eastern Conference and 4-6 in their last ten games. The Atlanta Hawks come into this one 20-12 on the year, 9-6 on the road, 7-6 vs. the Western Conference, 5-5 in their last ten games, but losers in their last two.
These two teams played only one time in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened NBA season. That meeting came on January 14th in Atlanta. The Wolves led by 18 points heading into the second half, but a late push in the fourth quarter led by Joe Johnson (who finished with 25 points) resulted in a two-point Atlanta win. Ivan Johnson hit the clinching free throws with 4.6 seconds to play and Kevin Love missed a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer for the 91-93 loss.
An injury ravaged season could have easily derailed the Wolves' season, but some consistent play from guys like Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea, Andrei Kirilenko, Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved have kept the Wolves 'hanging' around .500 this season. With Kevin Love down this season the play of those guys and contributions from Ricky Rubio, Dante Cunningham & Derrick Williams becomes absolutely vital for the Wolves.
As noted before, the Wolves will be getting Rubio back and have Pek playing, however they will continue to be without Kevin Love (finger), Brandon Roy (knee), Malcolm Lee (knee) and Chase Budinger (knee). I updated our injury report on Jan. 7th (yesterday) with updates on Ricky, Pek, Kevin & Malcolm. You can find the Injury Report under the 'Team Report' header on this site!
The Atlanta Hawks have a handful of injuries to some of their guys. Devin Harris was inactive for the Hawks' game on Saturday with a foot injury. Anthony Morrow also missed Saturday's game with a hip injury, it was his fifth-straight missed game. Both of those guys (Harris & Morrow) are travelling with the team on their road trip, so they're likely gametime decisions in this one.
Let's take a look at the probable starting lineups in this one...
Adelman began 2012-13 starting Derrick Williams at power forward (with Kevin Love out). On Wednesday Kevin Love went down again and will be out for AT LEAST a month. On Saturday in Minnesota's first game without Kevin Love (again) Adelman started Dante Cunningham at power forward. In 42 minutes of action vs. Portland, Dante finished with 10pts, 12reb, 2ast, 2stls & 3blks. Cunningham has certainly earned that spot AND Derrick Williams played 18 minutes off the bench and finished with 18pts, 6reb and 2stls (with all 18 of his points coming in that final quarter). Dante is the better defender and I'd say he's earned that starting spot with his hustle and energy on both ends of the floor. We'll see if that power forward spot becomes a 'revolving door' and matchups will determine who the starter is that night.
The most intriguing matchups will be the big men. Dante Cunningham vs. Josh Smith and Nikola Pekovic vs. Al Horford. Smith is undoubtedly Atlanta's best player and by that statline, you can see that J-Smoove is a terrific all-around player (much like Andrei Kirilenko...but with a slight edge in every area). Dante is one of the team's best defensive frontcourt players (just behind AK) and I'll be very interested to see his approach in defending such a versatile and dangerous player (Adelman could decide to put Kirilenko on Smith as well and likely have Cunningham cover Korver). Pekovic & Horford are two incredibly gifted big men and two very physical specimens. Pekovic has proved time and time again that he's the strongest man in the NBA and as Jim Petersen put it in Minnesota's last game (vs. Portland) he makes grown men look like children in the post! Horford is widely considered a Top 5 center in this League, but I remain doubtful that he'll have an answer for Nikola. Pek's hip injury could however hold him back.
Minnesota's success tonight will largely be determined by whether or not the Wolves can contain Josh Smith & Al Horford. The PG, SG and SF positions match up fairly well. One of Minnesota's big concerns with K-Love out becomes offense. Pekovic can give you 15-20 points and 8-15 rebounds, but guys like Kirilenko, Shved, Ridnour, Williams & Barea need to 'pick up the slack' on the offensive end.
That's all for now, tipoff for this one is set for 7pmCT and full gameday recap can be found here 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!