Two “powerhouse” Western Conference teams will face off for the second time this season with the Spurs winning the first game 107-99. That first game these teams played against each other was also the season opener for both teams. As the Spurs work to sustain an expected standard of sitting towards the top of the entire league, the Timberwolves are toiling to accomplish a feat they have failed to do for the past 13 seasons–make the playoffs.
Since the season opener, the Spurs have played well despite playing without the likes of Kawhi Leonard (quad) and Tony Parker (quad). The Spurs (9-5) have not lost five of their first 15 games since the 2011-2012 season that consisted of the most previous NBA lockout but this is absolutely a testament to the injuries of two of their stars. In their absence, Lamarcus Aldridge has stepped up to finally consistently perform the way everyone envisioned once he chose to sign with the team three years ago. This season Aldridge has been averaging 22.5ppg, 8.2rpg, 2.4apg, and 1.4bpg through the first 14 games this season including his highest per game averages in points and assists in his three seasons with the Spurs and a career high in blocks per game. With the offense moving through Aldridge more, there has been a rejuvenation in confidence for the 11-year veteran helping him lead the team to victories until Leonard and Parker return. He will need to ameliorate that confidence and level of play for a second straight night against the Wolves’ offense that averages 108ppg compared to the Spurs’ 102.6ppg.
The Timberwolves (8-5) have tipped off 2017-2018 with the second best start to a season in franchise history. They made significant roster alterations this offseason to acquire veterans to add more leadership on and off the court as well as additional scoring options to avoid their offense from impeding whenever Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns’ cannot provide a great enough scoring load. Well, so far the offseason acquirements have been excelling at what they were brought to Minnesota to do–offensively. The Wolves have scored over 100 points for a franchise record 12 straight games although the energy the team puts towards scoring has taken away from the teams’ defense. Players like Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson were brought to Minnesota assuming they would be able to lead the team in becoming more defensive minded but that has yet to happen. Since it’s not even a quarter of the way into the season I usually allow lapses on the court since they are still acclimatizing to each other although they will need to use their length on defense to lock down the perimeter while preventing the Spurs from grabbing offensive rebounds for multiple opportunities on single possessions.
Both teams are coming off of a win, yet the Spurs’ latest victory occurred last night meaning tonight they will be a back-to-back game for them while the Wolves have not played since Monday giving them the advantage of having more rest. The Wolves have improved since they lost to the Spurs in the season opener and knowing that they’re going to be home this time around where they are 4-1 gives me more assurance that they will take the win in this game. As I implied earlier, the Timberwolves need to do a better job defensively on a consistent basis and this will be one of their better defensive performances this season. That honestly doesn’t say much given the Spurs’ offense doesn’t crack the top 20 although, with exception to one team, the Wolves have only held teams under 100 points four times this season and all are composed with offenses ranked between 20-30 in the league. Expect the Spurs to keep the game close with their top three defense that holds opponents under 100 points on average but unlike the Spurs, the Wolves have a healthy closing threat in Jimmy Butler so keeping it close down the stretch won’t mean much in this game for the Spurs.