What: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves
When: 1:30 PM AZ Time - Early start!!
Watch: FoxSports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM ArizonaSports
The Phoenix Suns (13-28) will be trying to salvage something from this three-game road trip that has seen them drop games to Indiana and Boston when they take on the only team struggling more than them lately — the 12-29 Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Suns started 7-5, but have gone 6-23 since then. The Wolves started 8-8, but have gone 4-21 since then. Only the Suns can boast a win in calendar year 2016.
With a 113-93 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City on Friday, Minnesota remains the only team to not win a game in 2016. After a promising 8-8 start, the Timberwolves' season came off the rails in December, and they have now lost nine straight and 13 of their last 14 games. Sound familiar?
The Timberwolves are led by a promising core of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns — the Nos. 1 overall picks in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Wiggins leads the team in scoring at 20.9 points per game while Towns has taken over the starting center position with averages of 15.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game. Zach LaVine, another 20-year-old with potential for Minnesota, is third on the team in scoring at 12.4 per game.
The roster is also peppered with veterans like Kevin Garnett, Kevin Martin, Tayshaun Prince, Andre Miller, and Nikola Pekovic to help the kids along. Garnett returned to Minnesota last season — his home for the first 12 years of his career — but acts mostly as a mentor these days. Although he still starts, Garnett averages just 3.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in his 14.7 minutes per game, numbers miles from his career averages.
As a team, the Timberwolves average a league-worst 5.1 made 3-pointers per game, but without 3-point shooters, much of their offense must from inside the arc even though their 2-point efficiency (47.2 percent) leaves much to be desired. They do, however, make the most free throws in the NBA (20.9 per game) and attempt the third most in shooting a very good 79.3 percent from the charity stripe. Defensively, they allow opponents to shoot 46.1 percent from the field, which is 25th in the NBA.
Points: Andrew Wiggins (20.9)
Rebounds: Karl-Anthony Towns (9.5)
Assists: Ricky Rubio (8.7)
A 117-103 loss to the Boston Celtics in Boston left Phoenix at 0-2 on this three-game swing, but the Suns have bigger issues than a potentially winless road trip. Since beating New Orleans on Dec. 18, the Suns have gone 1-12 and now hold the NBA's fifth-worst record at 13-28 (which coincidentally is the exact same record the Suns held at the season's midway point during the agonizing 2012-13 campaign when Alvin Gentry was fired).
Brandon Knight has led Phoenix in Eric Bledsoe's absence, averaging 21.6 points and 5.8 assists in 2016 with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.2. His 3-point shooting has been in the toilet, though, at just 30.8 percent since the calendar flipped. Reserve forward Mirza Teletovic has been an unexpected source of offense alongside Knight, averaging 17 points in his last 6 games while shooting 45.7 percent (21 of 46) from 3. P.J. Tucker, meanwhile, has led the team in rebounding during January with 7.2 per game.
The Suns remain the NBA's worst team at defending against opponent's field goals, allowing 47.5 percent. That is almost a full percent higher than what the 29th-place team, the Washington Wizards, allow and is the highest percentage allowed by Phoenix since 1994-95. The Suns also allow opponents to shoot 38.1 percent from 3 (second worst). Those defensive numbers jump to 49 percent and 40.7 percent respectively for the month of January. Just about the only stat Phoenix has to hang its hat on is 3-point shooting, where they still rank third in the NBA at 37.6 percent, but even that is down to 35.8 percent in 2016.
The Suns live in the garbage now, but it's not that bad. Someone comes around on trash day and bangs on the side of the dumpster to let ‘em know the truck's comin' ‘round.
Points: Eric Bledsoe (20.4)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (7.2)
Assists: Eric Bledsoe (6.1)
Eric Bledsoe (Suns): left knee surgery (OUT)
Ronnie Price (Suns): right big toe surgery (OUT)
Alex Len (Suns): sprained left hand (OUT)
Kevin Martin (T-Wolves): illness (QUESTIONABLE)
When these two teams first met back on Dec. 13, the Suns came away with a 108-101 victory in Phoenix, weathering 28 points from LaVine and 19 from Martin. Towns (8 points, 6 rebounds) and Wiggins (13 points) both had down games that night while the Suns' backcourt duo of Bledsoe (23 points, 9 assists) and Knight (25 points, 6 assists) went to work against Minnesota. Alex Len, still starting in place of Tyson Chandler, had 18 points and 7 rebounds that night.
But the Suns hadn't yet fallen off the cliff back then. Now in freefall and without two of those major contributors from the last game, Phoenix will have a major fight on its hands. With the T-Wolves reeling from their current 9-game losing streak, they will be amped up to snap it at home against the weakest opponent they've faced since taking on the Philadelphia 76ers in Philly on Jan. 4. It is doubtful Towns will be limited by foul trouble again with only Chandler available at center for Phoenix or that Wiggins, who is averaging 22.1 points on almost 17 FGAs a game over his last eight, will play as passively as he did in December. If Phoenix has any intention of salvaging a win from this trip, they will need better focus, execution, and drive than they showed against either Indiana or Boston.
Andrew Wiggins vs. Devin Booker
While it is conceivable that Jeff Hornacek could put Tucker on Wiggins, he hasn't been all that inclined to hide the rookie defensively, letting him go head to head with Dwyane Wade recently. Should Booker be given the defensive assignment against Wiggins, it will be yet another stiff test for the 19-year-old. Booker has been inconsistent as a defender and found himself in quick foul trouble against Boston two days ago; however, he also shows good instincts and effort when locked in, which he will need to be if he hopes to limit the T-Wolves main offensive threat.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com and basketball-reference.com.