The Minnesota Timberwolves (38-26) finally lost a game after losing Jimmy Butler. They suffered it just last night care of the Portland Trail Blazers, 108-99, despite the best efforts of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Towns had a terrific night with 34 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks, and two steals, while Wiggins added 21 points.
However, they didn’t get nearly enough support from their teammates. After a terrific run of games, Jeff Teague finally fell back down to earth as he finished with just eight points on 3-of-12 shooting. Jamal Crawford was the only other Wolves player in double figures with ten points off the bench.
Teague and the Timberwolves will look to bounce back immediately against the Utah Jazz (31-30), who also need to get back on track. After going on an 11-game win streak, the Jazz have now dropped two of their last three games with double-digit losses to the Blazers and most recently the Rockets. They simply had to answer for the red-hot Rockets even though Houston was severely shorthanded.
Donovan Mitchell had his worst games in a while. The rookie had his streak of consecutive 20-point games snapped at six as he was limited to just 16 points. He also committed a career-high eight turnovers, while the Jazz had 22 as a team. Ricky Rubio added 14 points and five assists but still hasn’t looked anywhere close to the form he was in before suffering a hip injury.
Three keys to the game
Home-court advantage - Utah’s six-game home stand hasn’t gone as smoothly as expected with those two losses, but they will still be in a great spot to end it on a high. Not only will they have three full days of rest in between games, but they’ll also get the Timberwolves - a mere 13-19 on the road this season - on the second night of a back-to-back.
Timberwolves wings - As Towns’ performance last night proved, he can’t do it alone. The Wolves need a lot more offense from their supporting cast, particularly their wings, to make up for the loss of Butler. Wiggins will need to up his game after a rough shooting night, as does Crawford, if the Wolves expect to come away from Utah with a win.
Point guard battle - Speaking of stepping up, the Timberwolves obviously need Teague to return to the player he was for the past few games. He is the only other player with the ability to step into the role as the third option behind Towns and Wiggins. And on the other side, Rubio also needs to get his game together. Perhaps a matchup against his old team can give him that extra boost he needs in order to return to his excellent form from early February.
Matchup to watch
Andrew Wiggins vs Donovan Mitchell - It should be fun to watch these two young up-and-comers go head-to-head with one another. Both are obviously incredibly athletic and are already talented scorers. However, Mitchell’s defense has been much more advanced than Wiggins’, which could see him get the upper hand in their marquee matchup.
Timberwolves projected starting lineup
PG - Jeff Teague | SG - Andrew Wiggins | SF - Nemanja Bjelica | PF - Taj Gibson | C - Karl-Anthony Towns
Jazz projected starting lineup
PG - Ricky Rubio | SG - Donovan Mitchell | SF - Joe Ingles | PF - Derrick Favors | C - Rudy Gobert
Tows, Teague, and Wiggins are clearly the three Timberwolves to target in fantasy, but Towns is the safest bet among those three. He’s recorded a 20-10 double-double in his first two meetings with the Jazz this season. Moreover, he’s coming off back-to-back games where he’s had at least 26 points, 17 rebounds, two blocks, and two steals.
The Timberwolves were finally exposed last night by the Blazers. They weren't quite as good as everyone thought after they blew out the Bulls and the Kings in succession. It's a tough spot for them to take on a good Jazz team on the second night of a back-to-back, and on the road, where they have struggled all season. They likely struggle and lose again, with the Jazz covering the 6.5-point spread.
The Jazz hand the Wolves back-to-back defeats as they get the 104-96 home win.
This game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Tip-off is at 10:30 pm Eastern.