Minnesota (6-3) have not strung together five consecutive victories since Jan. 2-10, 2009, and they’ve put themselves in position for another one after Saturday night’s 112-99 victory over Dallas. Karl-Anthony Towns had 31 points and 12 rebounds and Andrew Wiggins added 23 points as the Timberwolves shot a season-best 54.4 percent.
The Wolves have scored 99 or more points in all nine of their games, and that’s with Jimmy Butler struggling to find his spots in the offense. The star guard looked like he had turned a corner with 25 and 23-point efforts in two of the first three games during this winning streak, but he had just four on Saturday and is averaging 15.4 points on 41.8 percent shooting in seven games.
Charlotte (5-4) had their three-game winning streak snapped with a 108-101 loss at San Antonio on Friday night. Jeremy Lamb scored a career-high 27 points and Dwight Howard added 20 and 13 rebounds for the Hornets, whose reserves were outscored 64-16.
Lamb, the “other” UConn guard in Charlotte’s backcourt with Kemba Walker, has averaged 19.3 points on 55.3 percent shooting in his last six games and has made 14 of 20 from three-point range in that span. Lamb, who has been starting all season, had never averaged over 9.7 points in his first five seasons and entered 2017/18 with just 13 NBA starts.
Three keys to the game
Hornets not sharing the ball - Charlotte is 29th in the league in assists per basket at .494 and 29th in assists at 18.6 per game. The Hornets are 3-0 when they record 18 or more assists but 2-4 when held to 17 or fewer.
Walker and Lamb are combining to average 9.0 assists but no on else has over 2.1 per contest. The ball needs to stick less and move more for the Hornets to be effective on the offensive end.
Finally, the defense rises for Minnesota - At some point, all of Tom Thibodeau's yelling and lecturing about defense had to sink in for his young team, and it looks like it's finally taking hold.
After letting opponents average 114.0 points and shoot 51.5 percent in the first seven games, the Timberwolves have held foes below 100 points and under 50.0 percent shooting in back-to-back games for the first time this season.
Will Bacon sizzle for the Hornets - Rookie swingman Dwayne Bacon had a season-high 18 points against the Spurs, getting the start after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did not play due to an excused absence.
Bacon is shooting just 34.4 percent overall, but 41.9 percent in his four starts. While it's likely Steve Clifford will bring him back off the bench, one almost wonders whether it's better for Bacon mentally if he's in the first five again.
Matchup to watch
C Dwight Howard vs. C Karl-Anthony Towns - Howard has been arguably the most impactful off-season acquisition in the league as he's averaged 14.8 points and 14.2 rebounds and shot 55.1 percent while posting seven double-doubles in Charlotte's first nine games.
It is his defense that will come under scrutiny though, against one of the more versatile scoring big men in Towns, who also has seven double-doubles in nine games. The Wolves' pivot is 11 for 28 from three-point range, and Towns will make life miserable for Howard if he can drag him out of the paint and make shots from the perimeter.
Charlotte Hornets projected starting lineup
PG - Kemba Walker | SG - Jeremy Lamb | C - Dwight Howard | SF - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist | PF - Marvin Williams
Minnesota Timberwolves projected starting lineup
PG - Jeff Teague | SG - Jimmy Butler | C - Karl-Anthony Towns | SF - Andrew Wiggins | PF - Taj Gibson
Towns has been a load to contain, averaging 23.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in four games versus Charlotte, sinking 18 of 19 from the foul line in those games.
This may be the game where Butler finally finds his stroke as he's averaged 29.8 points on 55.6 percent shooting in his last six against the Hornets while also getting 6.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game in that span.
Howard has 17 double-doubles in 25 lifetime meetings against Minnesota, totaling 16.8 points and 12.8 rebounds per game while shooting 60.8 percent.
Walker has had his way with the Wolves defense the last three games between the teams, hitting 10 of 18 from three-point range and averaging 28.7 points and 6.7 assists on 54.1 percent shooting.
Though a few trends favor the Hornets, who are 4-1 against the spread in their last five trips to Minnesota as part of five-game run by the road team against the number in head-to-head matchups, they are also 1-6 against the number in their last seven road games.
Yet 7 1/2 points feels like too big a number for Minnesota to cover given their defensive shortcomings. Taking the over at 215.5 points feels like a better play given it has hit in Minnesota's last six games against Southeast opponents and also 20 times the last 29 occasions the Wolves are playing the second game on back-to-back nights.
The over has also hit in Charlotte's last four games and six times in their last eight against Western Conference opponents.
Everyone keeps waiting for Butler to break out offensively, and there have been hints over the first nine games, but this may finally be his time. He has a favorable matchup against Lamb at shooting guard, doesn't have the burden of feeling like he has to do everything defensively and is coming off a 1-for-7 shooting performance in a win.
Simply put, Butler is due. Plus, if Towns can force Howard out of the lane defensively, it will be easier for Butler to break down defenders and get into the lane to finish. Charlotte has to make Minnesota move defensively, but it's also something the Hornets don't do well.
Also, look for Hornets rookie guard Malik Monk to make an impact. He had two points at San Antonio after scoring a season-high 25 versus Milwaukee, and he'll be eager to bounce back. At the end, this should be a game where the Wolves' "Big 3" power them to a 119-110 win.
This game will be televised locally on Fox Sports Southeast and Fox Sports Net North. Tip off time is 8 pm ET.
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