On the calendar, the Golden State Warriors’ Friday matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves is not a date that is circled in red. At least, it shouldn’t be. The two teams are in such different places that this upcoming contest should not be a cause for concern for the Warriors.
After all, the Dubs have taken that next step to elite status, riding the momentum from last season’s playoff berth toward ambitions of a division title, home-court advantage, a deeper postseason run and an eventual NBA Finals appearance.
Meanwhile, the T-Wolves are idling in the middle of the pack of the Western Conference with a 20-21 record and are fourth place in the Northwest Division.
Despite the return of Kevin Love from an injury-riddled 2012-2013 and the addition of free-agent guard Kevin Martin, Minnesota has yet to position itself into relevant, competitive contention this season. Which is confounding not only for the team but also for the rest of the league and NBA analysts.
What gives with Minnesota? Why is it underachieving? Is it a capable playoff team?
The Timberwolves’ mediocrity does not mean Friday’s game is one to take lightly. It doesn’t mean it will be an easy win for the Dubs. It doesn’t even mean the Warriors will win this home game at all, given Golden State’s up-and-down performance over the past couple of weeks. The Warriors have followed up a 10-game winning streak with a 2-4 stretch that includes a few lackluster, flat performances.
With only 10 games remaining before the All-Star Game, the Warriors need to finish off the first half of the season strongly. Eight of them are home games, and are against sub-.500 opponents—starting with Friday’s tilt against Minnesota.
The Dubs need to win the games they are supposed to. But, as last week’s matchup against the Denver Nuggets showed, anything is possible as long as the Warriors do not play up to their expectations.
Here are five things to watch for in Friday’s contest between the Golden State Warriors and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Warriors have the league’s ninth-ranked scoring offense with 103.6 points per game. Minnesota is the second-highest scoring offense at 106.5 points per game. The forecast is guaranteed to be scorching on Friday in Oakland, with both teams reaching triple digits.
The two teams are fairly evenly matched, with lethal outside threats and interior scoring. The main difference is their field-goal efficiency. Golden State ranks seventh in field-goal percentage (46.2), while Minnesota ranks 25th (43.5).
Minnesota’s high-powered attack is fueled by three players who appear in the top 30 in scoring: Kevin Love (25.0 points per game), Kevin Martin (19.1) and Nikola Pekovic (18.2). Together, they make up the highest scoring trio in the NBA.
One team with a trio of its own that can match the productivity of the T-Wolves is Golden State. With Stephen Curry (23.5), David Lee (19.2) and Klay Thompson (19.1), the Warriors can go toe-to-toe and basket-to-basket with any team’s best three scorers.
Which team’s big three will come out on top?
How can a team ranked 25th in field-goal percentage rank second in points per game? Answer: free points.
Minnesota makes up for its field-goal efficiency—or inefficiency—by getting to the free-throw line. The Timberwolves rank third in the NBA in free-throw attempts per game (27.0) and are second in free throws made (21.2), behind only Houston. Their 78.5 free-throw percentage ranks fifth in the league.
This does not bode well for Golden State, which ranks 25th in the league in team fouls, committing 22.3 per contest.
Meanwhile, the jump-shooting Warriors do not get to the free-throw line very often, getting there only 22.0 times a game. Worse, when they get to the charity stripe, they do not take advantage, hitting only 73 percent of attempts, which is the 24th-best mark in the league.
Of course, the Warriors shouldn’t get many free throws, given their proficiency at shooting from behind the three-point line. Their volume of treys offsets their interest in getting to the free-throw line.
The epitome of this mindset is Klay Thompson, who takes 7.3 three-pointers per game but only visits the free-throw line 2.3 times per game.
Friday’s game will be a battle of each team’s interest in different lines: Golden State will focus its scoring by splashing from behind the three-point line, while the ‘Wolves will work their way to the free-throw line. Look for Minnesota to shoot as many, if not more, free throws as the Warriors heave up three-pointers.
Leading the NBA in double-doubles this season is Minnesota’s Kevin Love (35 in 40 games played). Last season’s league leader was Golden State’s David Lee, who ranks ninth this season with 23. The two of them are among the most consistently productive power forwards in the league.
Surely, they will engage in a wonderful battle of elite frontcourt players. And whoever is able to wrestle loose balls and collect putbacks from the other will not be simply padding his stat line. More importantly, because Love and Lee are so productive with their scoring and rebounding, the team whose power forward comes away with higher totals will likely end up winning the game.
What’s somewhat surprising is that Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic ranks 10th with 20 double-doubles and Warriors guard Stephen Curry ranks 15th with 18. And with Golden State’s Andrew Bogut pulling down more than 10 rebounds per game and Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio posting double-digit assists 12 times this season, look for a stuffed stat sheet, with multiple players on each team recording double-doubles in Friday’s matchup.
Friday’s contest will feature two very potent backcourt duos.
The T-Wolves feature an electric combination of point guard Ricky Rubio and shooting guard Kevin Martin. On the other side, Golden State’s "Splash Brothers" backcourt of point guard Stephen Curry and 2-guard Klay Thompson is one of the most prolific scoring tandems in the league.
What makes this matchup even more intriguing, and increases the likelihood that there will be some high-scoring outputs from all four starting guards, is that both backcourts are below average defensively.
Thompson is the only above-average defensive starting guard among this quartet, but you wouldn’t notice it in the box scores. He's not among the league leaders in steals, rebounds or blocks. He simply plays defense with good footwork and contends jump shots. He will be incremental in keeping Martin at bay.
The other three starting guards in this game, however, are quite terrible defensively.
Martin, in fact, is among the worst shooting guards on the defensive side of the ball. When he is on the court, the ‘Wolves allow 106.5 points per 100 possessions; when he is off the court, they allow 101.5, for a net difference of five points.
Look for the Warriors to attack Martin with pick-and-rolls and Thompson post-ups. Defense is simply not Martin's thing.
Martin's teammate is only slightly better defensively, although he does lead the league in steals. Most of those are random loose balls that end up in Rubio's quick hands. Certainly, both Curry and Thompson will have an advantage whenever Rubio is guarding them. Curry's quick-release shot cannot be defended by anyone, let alone Rubio; and Thompson should be called on to post up the shorter Timberwolves point guard.
At the end of it all, with such inadequate perimeter defense, anticipate some high-scoring numbers from both starting backcourts—in particular, a dominant performance by Golden State's Splash Brothers.
Expect a hyped introduction of Stephen Curry before Friday’s home game and a raucous applause from the crowd as he is announced as a Western Conference starter for next month’s All-Star Game.
The final fan voting polls resulted in Curry skipping past the injured Chris Paul for the second spot (although injured Laker Kobe Bryant received the most votes at the guard position). Curry’s election gives the Warriors their first All-Star Game starter since Latrell Sprewell in 1995.
In addition to the All-Star nod, Curry was one of four Golden State Warriors named to the USA Basketball player pool on Thursday. He becomes one of the 28 candidates to represent America during the World Cup of Basketball in Spain this summer.
After cannonballing his way onto the national basketball scene with his playoff performance last season, he is riding the tidal wave to NBA superstardom. The league-wide praise and adulation are now being followed by more tangible accolades and lasting designations.
With Golden State’s loyal fanbase, the crowd will be piercing during the Warriors’ player introductions, with “M-V-P” chants for likely the entire 40-plus minutes that he will be on the floor. The energy will be palpable. And for Warriors fans, hopefully Curry will put on a show to celebrate his All-Star selection and carry the team to a victory.
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