The Phoenix Suns are once again one of the hottest teams in the NBA...at least within the microcosm of the second half of the season thus far. Tonight the 19-21 Suns will once again take on the 21-21 Minnesota Timberwolves; the same team they began their 5-1 post NBA All-Star break winning spree with.
As for the Timberwolves, their start to the second half of the season hasn't been quite as fortunate. Their record since the All-Star break is a mediocre 3-3...but it gets worse. Rookie sensation and the closest thing to the Steve Nash of the next generation, Ricky Rubio, is out for the rest of the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee against the Lakers last Friday...Ouch!
The Timberwolves will be looking to salvage what was once such a promising season, and trying to right the ship now with Luke Ridnour taking over again as the starting point guard; and the Suns will be looking to continue their surprising surge in their quest for the playoffs against the steepest of odds. Who wants it more?
Read on after the jump for a breakdown of what to expect.
Here's a Look at the T-Wolves:
Looking at these stats it's pretty easy to tell who the backbone of this team is, and despite the hype (deservedly) surrounding Ricky Rubio and what a loss he is to the team, It's Kevin Love who's remains the franchise player. Now with Rubio out of the picture and with Luke Ridnour moving back the the point and Martell Webster starting at the two-guard spot, I'm thinking we'll see more of Michael Beasley than before, and as you can see from his stats he can be a significant contributor. If Minnesota has an x-factor besides Kevin Love, Michael Beasley is probably that guy.
Steve Nash vs. Luke Ridnour - Despite the obvious drop off in talent from Rubio, Luke Ridnour is actually a pretty decent point guard all things considered. Even in the disappointing loss Saturday night against the New Orleans Hornets, Luke scored 14 points and dished out 10 assists. Still, Steve Nash is in a league of his own...and I fully expect Nash to win this match-up handily. (Strong Advantage - Suns)
Channing Frye vs. Kevin Love - If there is one player on the T-Wolves who appears ready and willing to put the team on his back and carry them to the playoffs it's Kevin Love. In the first game after the Rubio injury when the rest of the team was playing out of sync, sloppy, and disorganized, Love posted 31 points and 16 rebounds after missing the prior game due to back spasms. Channing Frye will have his work cut out for him trying to keep Love off the glass and out of the paint, and while his defense and rebounding has been much improved this season, this will be the most favorable match-up for the Wolves to exploit tonight, and I expect them to do just that. (Advantage - Wolves)
Marcin Gortat vs. Nikola Pekovic - Pekovic has had a very impressive season thus far and was one of the unsung heroes of the T-Wolves impressive start to the season. He is averaging around 13 points and 7 rebounds a game, and has given the Wolves a tough presence inside. But the Suns have a pretty impressive big man themselves. Marcin Gortat is averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds a game and is also one of the best defensive centers in the league as well. This won't be an easy game for Gortat, but I still expect him to get the best of this match-up. (Advantage - Suns)
Suns' Bench vs. T-Wolves' Bench - This is a tough one to call. On one hand the Suns' bench has been playing well lately despite having issues in the past, while the T-Wolves' bench is ripe with talent but hasn't produced up to expectations. Players like Derrick Williams, Michael Beasley, and even Wayne Ellington have all shown they can be game changers at times, but none of them have done so consistently. If the Suns bench continues to play well, and Gentry continues to mix the reserves with the starters like he has done recently then the Suns bench should have the upper hand, but if any of those Wolves reserves above have a big night that could change. (Slight Advantage - Suns)
The Timberwolves didn't fare very well in their first game without Rubio on Saturday night, and tonight's game will be their first of a seven game road trip that could very well make or break the season for them. This is a team who hasn't made the playoffs since 2004, and losing Rubio likely sucked all their momentum and hope right out the window. I believe they are still reeling from the loss of their young star, and I doubt they will be in the right frame of mind to will themselves to a victory. The Suns have won the last nine match-ups in a row against the Timberwolves, and I don't expect that trend to change tonight.