After perching themselves seemingly safely in the top four in the Western Conference standings for much of the season, the Timberwolves have dropped to sixth after a disappointing run. They are now 38-28, still only 1.5 games from third but just 2.5 games ahead of ninth. Their most recent game was a 108-116 defeat at the hands of the Jazz. Andrew Wiggins had 27 points and Jeff Teague continued to shine in Jimmy Butler’s absence with 25 points, but as usual it was their defense that let them down.
The Celtics are well and truly losing the chase for the first seed in the east, but at 45-20 they are very comfortably perched in second. They seem to have returned to form, too, having won four of their past five, and are coming off a 105-89 victory over the Bulls.
Three keys to the game
Boston’s offense - The Celtics have prided themselves on defense this season, but it is their offense which has been the cause for their recent form. Their 105 points against Chicago was their lowest total in seven games, and in this time they lead the league in offensive rating, scoring 116.8 points per 100 possessions.
Teague’s form - The Timberwolves point guard has been a solid starting piece this season, averaging 13.7 points and 6.9 assists a game, but since Butler went down he has taken things to a new level. In these four games he is averaging 20.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.3 steals a night in his attempts to negate the loss of Minnesota’s star.
The paint battle - Minnesota scores plenty of points in the paint. Their 48.5 points which come in this way per game is the fifth most in the NBA. Boston, however, defend this area particularly well, with their 42.4 opposition points in the paint per game the sixth lowest in the NBA. One of these sides is going to lose this battle, and whoever it is may well lose the game.
Matchup to watch
Kyrie Irving vs Jeff Teague - Irving sat out Boston’s most recent victory, and will be ready to make an impact in this game. The All-Star point guard is averaging 24.8 points per game in his first season as a Celtic, and is doing so very efficiently. Irving is going at 49.0% from the field this season, and 40.8% from beyond the arc. He also contributes 5.1 assists and 1.1 steals a night. Teague’s season averages are nowhere near those of Irving’s, and he is a far inferior player, but he is still a more than useful player and has shown his worth in recent weeks. He will need to take it up to Irving to give his Timberwolves a chance.
Minnesota Timberwolves predicted starting lineup
PG - Jeff Teague | SG - Andrew Wiggins | SF - Nemanja Bjelica | PF - Taj Gibson | C - Karl-Anthony Towns
Boston Celtics predicted starting lineup
PG - Kyrie Irving | SG - Jaylen Brown | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Al Horford | C - Aron Baynes
In the one game between these sides so far this season, the Celtics got over the line, but Towns was the most dominant player on the floor. The Timberwolves’ centre managed 25 points and a huge 23 rebounds in the game, and also contributed a couple of blocks for good measure. He has played just five games against the Celtics in his career, meaning his numbers were influenced somewhat by that matchup, but his averages are impressive nonetheless. Against Boston, he averages 24.4 points, 16.8 rebounds (unsurprisingly a career high), 2.8 assists, and 1.8 blocks.
The Timberwolves have been given a two-point head start in this game. Boston's slight favoritism makes sense given their recent form, but Minnesota might be able to sneak over the line. The Timberwolves play far better on their home floor, and should be able to cover this line.
This will be close. Minnesota are jockeying for playoff positions, and could finish anywhere from third to tenth. The Celtics, meanwhile, are chasing the Raptors down for the number one seed in the east. Expect Irving to return from his rest with a big game, putting up 30 points on Teague to give Boston a huge chance of victory.
Towns, however, will dominate. He has already taken a liking to the Celtics in his career, and he will continue that form in this game. He will be too fleet for Baynes and too big for Horford, so expect him to score 25-plus points and grab 15-plus rebounds.
This, in combination with the continued good form of Teague and Wiggins, will be enough to get the Timberwolves over the line. They’ll run out 109-106 winners in a close one.
The game will be broadcast nationally on TNT. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.