Due to the salary cap, basketball tends to be a cyclical sport. The Indiana Pacers are firmly in the middle of a cycle. They will not be great this season, but will not be terrible, either. Sitting at 1-2 after a close defeat to the Miami Heat last time out, expectations are tempered in Indianapolis, as they seem content to let their young talent win or lose in their development.
Minnesota, on the other hand, are at the peak of their own cycle. After years of disappointing seasons and asset grabbing, the Timberwolves now have a lineup capable of putting serious points on even the best teams in the league. The franchise are 2-1 after a highly impressive clutch victory over their star-studded fellow contenders the Oklahoma City Thunder the other night. Tom Thibodeau’s T-Wolves are a force to be reckoned with in this league.
Three Keys to the Game
The continued emergence of Andrew Wiggins – Although undoubtedly a precocious talent, Andrew Wiggins was considered to be the third man in the Wolves’ star-studded starting five. Despite Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns attracting much of the preseason attention, the 22-year-old wing has taken on a leadership role with the Wolves, something he proved when he took the responsibility to nail the game-winning shot against the Thunder. With impressive scoring and clutch plays like this, Wiggins could find his way to the NBA’s elite by the end of the campaign if he keeps it up.
The development of the Pacers’ young stars – Indiana are placing much of their faith in their young core of Victor Oladipo and the injured Myles Turner. However, they are far from the only young talent developing in Nate McMillan’s team. T. J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu (as well as the also injured Edmond Sumner) are a fast-developing bunch, and who knows on which night they might catch fire.
The backcourt battles – In a period of inconsistency for the Pacers, Oladipo and Darren Collison have been the only constants. They will have to be at their very best to compete against one of the craftiest and most experienced backcourts in the NBA in Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler, who will ask them to play at a pace far beyond what they’re used to.
Matchup to Watch
Bojan Bogdanovic vs Andrew Wiggins – With the injury to Glenn Robinson III, Bojan Bogdanovic has been forced into a much more prominent role than anyone expected of him. Taking on much of the responsibility on the wing that Paul George once shouldered, Bogdanovic will be on the court for much longer than McMillan will have wanted. The Croatian is ill-famed for his lax defensive play, and the red-hot Wiggins will be licking his lips.
Indiana Pacers Projected Starting Lineup
PG – Darren Collison | SG – Victor Oladipo | SF – Bojan Bogdanovic | PF – Thaddeus Young | C – Domantas Sabonis
Minnesota Timberwolves Projected Starting Lineup
PG – Jeff Teague | SG – Jimmy Butler | SF – Andrew Wiggins | PF – Taj Gibson | C – Karl-Anthony Towns
Wiggins will be up against Bogdanovic for much of this game. The 22-year-old is in imperious form at the moment, and his opponent is not known for his form at the less-glamorous parts of the game. Wiggins will likely grab yet another 20+ points, and will threaten a double-double.
I love Minnesota in this game, but they are 11-point favorites on the spread. Indiana are worth that gamble.
I’m certainly leaning toward Minnesota here, but I’m not sure it’s going to be quite the massacre you may be expecting. Minnesota by eight points.
8pm Eastern for this one, on local Fox Sports networks from the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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