Minnesota (7-3) are seeking their first six-game winning streak since closing the 2003/04 season with nine consecutive victories. The burgeoning Big 3 of Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins are also part of an improved defense as the Timberwolves have held their last three opponents under 100 points after doing so just once in their first seven games.
They eased past Charlotte 112-94 on Monday night as Wiggins led six players in double figures with 20 points. Minnesota also got double-doubles from unexpected sources as point guard Jeff Teague had 18 points and a season-high 12 assists while Gorgui Dieng had season highs of 15 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.
Golden State (8-3), meanwhile, are in a groove as they enter this contest winners of four in a row. After sweeping a three-game road swing, the Warriors also did it with defense Monday night by stifling the Miami Heat in a 97-80 victory.
The Warriors shot a season-low 36.8 percent, but they scored 29 points off 20 Heat turnovers and outscored them 26-4 in transition. It was the rare off night for both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as Golden State’s starting backcourt shot 5 of 17 from 3-point range and 10 of 38 overall.
Three keys to the game
Golden State will bounce back offensively - The Warriors have not been held below 100 points in back-to-back games since the last two contests before the 2014/15 All-Star break in Steve Kerr's first season as coach. Two hundred and six games later, the Timberwolves have a chance to make it happen again. That said, getting Curry and Thompson to have two consecutive sub-par games will take a Herculean effort from Minnesota's improving yet inconsistent defense.
Dieng Dong - The fifth-year forward became a forgotten man in Minnesota with Taj Gibson's arrival after starting all 82 games last season, but Dieng has found a groove the last three games as he's totaled 30 points and 24 rebounds in just 59 minutes. The power forward could prove valuable in this matchup because he offers coach Tom Thibodeau the flexibility to let Towns guard Kevin Durant on the perimeter. He also lets the Timberwolves still have size if the Warriors go small.
Where is Nick Young? - The Warriors signed the guard away from the Lakers in the offseason to address their bench scoring, and it looked good as Young opened the season with a 23-point game and had a 13-point effort shortly thereafter. But he has totaled 11 points in Golden State's last six games, shooting 3 of 17 from beyond the arc and 4 of 20 overall. It hasn't cost the Warriors of late, but it wouldn't hurt to get him going again.
Matchup to watch
Andrew Wiggins vs Draymond Green - This matchup will be a measuring stick of just how much the Timberwolves are progressing defensively. Green is the jack-of-all trades, master-of-none, do-it-all small forward who makes the Warriors lethal in the half court. Both are playing well offensively of late; Wiggins is averaging 19.4 points during Minnesota's five-game winning streak and Green is averaging 16.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists while shooting 67.6 percent from the field and 9 for 14 from 3-point range during Golden State's four-game run. There's more pressure on Wiggins to shut down Green than vice versa since the Warriors play at an unstoppable level when Green is performing at his current clip.
Minnesota Timberwolves projected starting lineup
PG - Jeff Teague | SG - Jimmy Butler | C - Karl-Anthony Towns | SF - Andrew Wiggins | PF - Taj Gibson
Golden State Warriors projected starting lineup
PG - Stephen Curry | SG - Klay Thompson | C - Zaza Pachulia | SF - Draymond Green | PF - Kevin Durant
There are plenty of fantasy options.
Towns has four double-doubles in seven career games against Golden State but just one in the last four. He still is averaging 21.1 points and 10.9 rebounds in those games while shooting 52.6 percent from the field.
Butler has done well attacking the basket against Golden State, sinking 28 of 36 free throws in the last four games while averaging 24.3 points in that span. He's also had two games of six or more assists among those four contests.
Curry has shot less than 40 percent in four of his last six matchups with Minnesota, but he's still totaling 23.7 points and 8.0 assists per game in 24 lifetime games against the Wolves while shooting 40.0 percent from beyond the arc.
Thompson, however, has lit up Minnesota for 30.4 points per game in the last five outings, including 33.7 in the last three. He has hit 22 of 52 from 3-point range and shot 53.8 percent overall in that span.
Durant has averaged 27.7 points in 34 lifetime games against Minnesota, shooting exactly 50 percent overall and 42.0 percent from 3-point range.
The Timberwolves have been the better play of late, going 4-0-1 against the spread in their last five visits to Oracle Arena and 5-0-1 in the last six matchups overall. Yet given Golden State's recent run, coupled with who Minnesota have shut down defensively, taking the Warriors as 10-point favorites feels like the better play when one realizes the Wolves gave up an average of 120.6 points in the five games before shutting down New Orleans, Dallas and Charlotte. The over/under is 228, a comfortable number to take the over with considering that the Warriors likely will break out offensively and the fact the Wolves will get their ponts based on the number of possessions they will get more than Golden State's shortcomings defensively.
Everyone wants this to be an exciting game, and with good reason. The Timberwolves were the latest in a line of Western Conference (and NBA) teams to embrace the Big 3 to make themselves an elite team. It's still a work in progress as Butler integrates himself into the offense and leads the defense. He has the second-most challenging defensive assignment in guarding Thompson, who has torched the Wolves of late.
But for all the hype around Minnesota, Golden State look like they're on the verge of being the championship-caliber Warriors showcased over the past three seasons. The Warriors showed they can win when their shots aren't falling last time out, and they are unlikely to endure a two-game shooting slump. This will be a good learning lesson for Minnesota as Golden State turns up offensively for a 135-122 win.
This game will be televised nationally on ESPN and TSN in Canada, and locally on NBC Sports Bay Area and Fox Sports Net North. Tip-off time is 10:30 pm EST.
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