Before the season started, both the Wolves and the Suns thought they might be playoff contenders. For different reasons, that has turned out to be dead wrong for both teams.
The Wolves were a nationwide choice to fight hard for a playoff spot in the West after adding Russians SF Andre Kirilenko and SG Alexey Shved to replace outgoing disappointments Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson, but injuries have taken a toll on their season.
All-Star candidates Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio have battled injury all season, missing 36 and 26 of 54 games respectively, while wing players Chase Budinger and Brandon Roy have effectively missed the entire season.
In their absence, impending restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic is their leading scorer at 16 points per game to go along with 8.9 rebounds in 32 minutes a night. The Wolves have four other players scoring double figures a night, but none over 13.4 points a night. Overall, the Wolves offense is only 21st in the league.
Without a healthy roster, the Wolves are strikingly similar to the Suns team they beat by only 4 points at home earlier this season with Kevin Love putting up 23 and 18. Love is now out for the most of the rest of the season.The Wolves are 12th in the West and sinking fast, having lost 8 of 11 games in February.
Season series success
The Wolves and Suns face each other three more times this season, including tonight. The Suns have not lost a season-series to the Wolves since 2003-04. Since so much about this Suns team resembles that 29-win team, losing to the Wolves would not be a surprise.
Rubio and Williams
While Kevin Love has been injured, Ricky Rubio is finally rounding into shape. He has been playing starters minutes, and over the last 10 games has put up 13.4 points, 9.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 steals per game. His shooting is still terrible, at 39% from the field and 22% on 3-pointers. Clearly, Rubio is best at facilitating and defending.
Second-year player Derrick Williams has played better of late as well filling in at PF for Kevin Love, putting up 13 points and 7.7 rebounds in 27 minutes a night over the last 10 games.
Suns good and bad
On the Suns side, we all know that Goran Dragic has been killing it since the All-Star break. He's put up almost 13 assists per game over the last 4, along with 18 points and 3 steals. Killing it.
Former T-Wolves, though, have not. Wolves fans won't be surprised that, overall, Wesley Johnson and Michael Beasley have been inconsistent and generally disappointing all season.
What surprises me is that Beasley and Johnson were starters for the Wolves. Michael Beasley started 80 of 120 games for the Wolves, playing 32 and 23 minutes per game in two seasons. Wesley Johnson started 127 of 144 games, playing 26 and 22 minutes per game in two seasons.
From what I've seen of these two, all I can say is: yikes! On the Suns, these two have 20 starts between them (all by Beasley), and have played only 21 and 8 minutes per game when they don't get a DNP. So there's that.
The Phoenix Suns actually have a chance to get back into the win column tonight against a kind-of equally bad Wolves team. Yet the Wolves problem is mostly injuries sapping their talent, while the Suns are pretty darn healthy.
What I am interested in seeing tonight is a faceoff of 3 lottery picks from the 2011 draft. The Wolves' Derrick Williams (#2 overall) faces off against the Suns' twins of Markieff (#13) and Marcus (#14) Morris.
All three are strikingly similar. All are tweener forwards, though Marcus is the SF/PF tweener along with Williams, while Markieff is a little bigger as the PF/C tweener.
All came out in 2011, with Derrick jumping all the way to #2 overall thanks to a big showing in the tournament. Markieff was not a Williams fan, to say the least. Check out the trash talk at draft time:
"I didn't think he was as good as advertised," Morris said. "He got the benefit of the calls from the ref and we had to guard him different. He definitely had a good game against us, because we couldn't guard him how we wanted to guard him, and that's what happened."
"It's still surprises me [that he's a top-two pick]. What he did to Duke, he wouldn't do that to me or my brother [Marcus]. I'm dead serious. He wouldn't. At all. He's good. But if we was to work out, I would go at him and I would be able to stop him more than people would expect, you know what I mean."
Derrick Williams puts up 10 and 5 in 21 minutes per game this season, hitting 32% of his threes.
Markieff is putting up 7.3 and 4.4 in 20 minutes (28% on threes) a night, while Marcus put up 8.6 and 4.1 in 21 minutes (38% on threes) for Houston.
Not much difference there. Let's see who shines the brightest tonight and if any fireworks spark now that the Bash Brothers are back together.