With just seven games left to play, the Timberwolves are hanging to a playoff place by a thread. They sit in eighth place in the west with a 42-33 record, and just a two game buffer over the Clippers and the Nuggets.
Minnesota did themselves no favors by going down to the hapless Grizzlies at home on Monday. They scored just 11 points in the final quarter to eventually lose 93-101.
The draw remains their friend though, with a number of games against non-playoff bound teams to come, starting with a matchup against the Hawks on Wednesday. Atlanta boast a similar record to Memphis, and sit in last place in the Eastern Conference with a 21-53 record.
They have now lost three games in a row after going down 99-118 to the Rockets on Sunday. Taurean Prince continued to show positive signs though, racking up 28 points in the loss.
Three keys to the game
Can the Timberwolves perform without Butler? - Since Butler went down with a knee injury, Minnesota are 6-7. His impact on both ends makes him their most important player, and without him they look like a different side. Towns is a star, but has his flaws and does not get a whole lot of looks at the basket in this side, and Wiggins is not yet at the stage where he can be the second best player on a good side.
Prince’s performance - The 2016 pick 12 has emerged as a shining light in what has been a relatively uninteresting season for the Hawks. He has come into his own in recent weeks, scoring 20 points or more in six of his past eight games and twice racking up 38 points. His down games, however, are still very poor, and in the four games out of his last ten where he hasn’t scored at least 20 points, he has averaged just 7.5 points.
Can the Hawks restrict their turnovers? - One of Atlanta’s many problems this season has been their tendency to allow too many points through turnovers. They allow 17.8 points in this way per game, the sixth most in the league, and against the Timberwolves this could come back to bite them; Minnesota’s 17.5 points per game is the fifth most in the NBA.
Matchup to watch
Karl-Anthony Towns vs Dewayne Dedmon - Towns’ 20.7 points per game is significantly lower than his average last season, but he is doing it at an improved efficiency. Clearly he is getting less looks since Butler went down and he's been forced to have a greater impact on the offensive end. His last two games have been disappointing though, as he has shot just 8-for-28 combined in these outings. His defense still has plenty of room for improvement, but against Dedmon that won’t be a major issue. Dedmon is an improved player and is better than most give him credit for, but he still averages just 9.7 points per game and has a greater impact on the defensive end of the floor. His 7.6 rebounds per game are a career high, and in his past four outings he has averaged 10.8 boards and a block.
Minnesota Timberwolves predicted starting lineup
PG - Jeff Teague | SG - Andrew Wiggins | SF - Nemanja Bjelica | PF - Taj Gibson | C - Karl-Anthony Towns
Atlanta Hawks predicted starting lineup
PG - Isaiah Taylor | SG - Damion Lee | SF - Taurean Prince | PF - John Collins | C - Dewayne Dedmon
Towns averages just 15.4 points per game against Atlanta, a career low, but this has been more a product of how many shots he has taken than an inability to finish. The 15.4 points come at an incredibly efficient 64.4% from the floor, and he shoots 44.4% from beyond the arc in these games. He also grabs 12.0 rebounds, dishes out 2.8 assists, and contributes 1.8 blocks against the Hawks.
The Hawks have been given an 11.5 point head start in this game, but they have clocked out for the season, so don’t expect them to cover it. All of the Hawks past three games have seen them lose by over 11 points, including one against the Kings, and five of their past six losses have been by more than this margin. Back the Timberwolves at the line.
Despite all their troubles, Minnesota will have no trouble in this game - though most would have said the same prior to the Grizzlies matchup. The Hawks have no motivation to win and are simply waiting for the season to end, while the Timberwolves will be seething after their recent loss and desperate for redemption.
Teague has been in great form since Butler went down and will put up over 20 points, while Towns will contribute his league-leading 63rd double-double for the season. Minnesota will be far too good, and will run out 111-97 winners.
The game will be broadcast locally on Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Southeast. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.