Minnesota is 3-2 on the year, 2-1 at home and 1-1 vs. Western Conference foes. Dallas is also 3-2 on the year, 0-2 on the road and 2-2 vs. the Western Conference.
The Timberwolves split the season series vs. the Mavericks a year ago. The Wolves won the first two meetings and Dallas the last two. They also split the games at home and on the road.
Despite that, these are two very different teams meeting this season. Both have undergone some changes in the offseason. The Wolves have two new starters in the mix (Brewer & Martin) while also adding three rookies (Shabazz, Dieng & Hummel) and signing a free agent big man (Turiaf). The Mavericks have three new starters (Calderon, Ellis, Dalembert), added three rookie guards (Ricky Ledo, Shane Larkin & Gal Mekel), while also signing free agent reserves (former Wolf Wayne Ellington, guard Devin Harris & big man DeJuan Blair).
There's no doubt that each team has gotten better this offseason and there's little doubt that the both of these teams (barring injuries) will be battling for a 5-8 seed in the Western Conference this spring. The Mavericks were without Dirk Nowitzki for a good portion of last season and that kind of doomed them early as even when he did return, it took him a while to get back to his dominant former self. The Mavericks had some injuries to key players that hurt them and the Timberwolves had the worst injury-plagued season I've ever heard about--especially concerning it involved Minnesota's best players (Rubio, Love, Roy as well as Pek & AK47 missing 20 games apiece). Both teams will be looking to keep their superstars healthy and if that's the case, we should see each team returning to the postseason: the Mavericks after a year off and the Timberwolves who have taken nine years off...
Let's take a look at the probable starters for this one...
I like the Nowitzki--Ellis tandem and for the first time in a VERY long time the Wolves have an excellent tandem of their own: the Kevins--which has been quite effective through the first few games of the season. Love has struggled a bit the past couple games shooting the ball (especially from deep), but Martin has looked stellar through four of the five games (excluding his 9-point outing vs. his former team the OKC Thunder.
I'll be interested to see the defensive matchups in this one. It's clear that Rubio will guard Calderon, Love vs. Dirk & Pek vs. Dalembert. However, it'll be interesting to see if Adelman puts his best defender (Brewer) on the Mavericks' leading scorer (Ellis). That would of course leave Kevin Martin to guard Shawn Marion (Dallas' leading rebounder) and that doesn't seem like a good matchup.
The Timberwolves' last game was a 93-106 loss to the Golden State Warriors. The Mavericks' last game was a 93-107 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Wolves will be without Ronny Turiaf (elbow) and Chase Budinger (knee). Updates on the both of them can be found under the Team Report--Injury Report section. The Mavericks will be without rookie Shane Larkin (ankle), he practiced for the first time on Monday and he hopes to make his NBA debut within a couple weeks. Devin Harris (toe) hopes to return in December and big man Brandan Wright (fractured shoulder) has no timetable as of yet. Swingman Vince Carter is suspended for one game and won't play tonight because he swung an elbow at the head of OKC's Steven Adams and made contact.
The Wolves have to contain Dirk & Ellis in this one. You've got to make Monta a jump shooter and not let him drive to the lane for easy buckets. Kevin Love will have his hands full with Dirk and now that I think of it, we could potentially see Corey Brewer on Dirk and Love on Marion. It's not likely to begin the game, but we could see it at some point--especially if Dirk gets off to a hot start.
The Wolves also DESPERATELY need production from their second unit. There's really no reason that a bench unit led by J.J. Barea & Derrick Williams can't do more offensively. Each time Adelman turned to his bench this season, the offense looks completely out of sorts. The bench has yet to score 30 or more points in a game this season. Their lowest point came on Wednesday when the bench mustered just 10 points, 3 of which came in the final minute when the game was out of reach. The bench has scored just 108 points and is averaging 21.6 through five games. The bench will certainly get better when Budinger & Turiaf return, but this could be a lingering problem for the Wolves. I've been surprised that Barea hasn't had a 20-point game yet this season, he's definitely known to have those great breakout performances off the bench. Barea's season-high is 11 points and his most recent outing was his worst of the year: 5pts vs. the Warriors.
This one will tip at 7pmCT, enjoy the game and GO WOLVES!