The Wolves are coming off a tough loss at New Orleans on Friday night, in which they were beat handily by the worst team in the Western Conference.
It doesn’t get any easier tonight at San Antonio.
The Spurs are good. Real good. 28-11 good – which is good for 1st in the Southwest Division and 3rd overall in the Western Conference. (San Antonio is currently 1½ games behind the 28-8 Oklahoma City Thunder.)
The Spurs are good, but are they great? That’s where the data stops and the speculation starts. But with the Lakers threatening to miss the playoffs, OKC lacking James Harden, and the Clippers being the Clippers, the Spurs have a shot in the West this year. And it isn’t just question marks about the competition; San Antonio’s play this season suggests they’re every bit a threat to make The Finals.
Unfortunately for the Wolves, if the Spurs have a special strength, it appears to be their performance at home. The Spurs have actually lost three of their last five, but all three of those losses came on the road, against the Knicks, Hornets, and Grizz, respectively. At 15-2 (.882), San Antonio has the best home winning percentage in the NBA. They’ve been eminently beatable on the road, at 13-9 (.591), but divine intervention isn’t going to move this tilt to the Target Center: coming off an overtime loss in Memphis Friday night, expect the Spurs to be primed and ready tonight at home.
Some specifics to look for tonight:
- Tiago Splitter’s Free Throw Stroke: There’s really nothing else like it anywhere in the NBA. Enjoy its uniqueness, especially if his clangs bounce to Wolves rebounders.
- Shved vs. Ginobili: Alexey Shved has frequently been compared to Manu Ginobili, notably by Oceanary over at Canis Hoopus. Manu’s a much more physical offensive player; Alexey is taller and passes over rather than under or around the defense more. Assuming they spend some time going head-to-head tonight, can we draw any other similarities or differences between the two funky foreign guards?
- Who’s Afraid of Tony Parker? Tony Parker always seems to carve up the Wolves defense. No matter what I do, I still can’t erase his 55 point outburst a few seasons ago in Minneapolis from my mind. Parker is trouble, flat out. He’s averaging over 19 & 7, and has a PER of 22.5. The Wolves starting point, Luke Ridnour doesn’t have the lateral quickness to keep Parker out of the paint, where TP’s floater remains oh-so-devastating. What to do? Ricky Rubio isn’t a perfect matchup against Parker, as he’s still coming back from injury and simply isn’t as fast as Parker. But between Luke and Ricky, Rubio’s still the vastly superior defender, and the Wolves are going to need more than 18 minutes from him tonight to keep Parker from dominating offensively.
- Can Pek Disrupt Duncan? Since Kevin Love went down, I find myself writing about how critical Pek’s performance is to the Wolves’ chances of winning before almost every game. Tonight is no different. Pek can’t stop Tim Duncan – no one can, really, at least not Duncan’t bread and butter moves, such as his face up bank shot from the extended block. But the Wolves’ chances of winning will go way up if Pekovic can keep Duncan off the boards and limit easy second-chance opportunities for the long-armed future Hall of Famer.
- Rotating to Perimeter Shooters: The Spurs are great at swinging the ball around the horn to an open shooter on the wing or in the corner. Danny Green, Gary Neal, Kawhi Leonard, Matt Bonner, and even Punch-Drunk Wolves favorite Stephen Jackson can all bury those open treys, seemingly in their sleep. After all the poor shooting Wolves fans have seen this year, they may get an unwanted illustration tonight of what a bunch of professional shooters look like if they don’t rotate well defensively.
Enjoy the tilt.