Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves
Time: 5 pm (local)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona Plus
Radio: 98.7 FM
The Phoenix Suns (20-53) head out on a brief two-game road trip that begins against the 24-49 Minnesota Timberwolves in the teams' fourth and final meeting of the season.
Minnesota has won two of its last three games, including a double-overtime win against the Washington Wizards that saw Karl-Anthony Towns go for 27 points and 11 rebounds. Despite owning a 5-8 record in the month of March, the Timberwolves have been competitive, losing close games to the Golden State Warriors (109-104), Houston Rockets (116-111), and Charlotte Hornets (108-103) and beating the Oklahoma City Thunder (99-96) and Memphis Grizzlies (114-108).
At this point, youth runs the show for this team. The oldest starter for the T-Wolves is Gorgui Dieng at 26 years old, who is in just his third season in the NBA. Beyond him, Ricky Rubio (25), Andrew Wiggins (21), Zach LaVine (21), and Towns (20) round out an extremely talented and young starting lineup. Wiggins still leads Minnesota offensively, but Towns, the NBA's Rookie of the Year frontrunner, is quickly becoming the team's go-to player. LaVine continues to be a dangerous offensive weapon, averaging 19.4 points in March while shooting 49.3 percent from behind the arc. Rubio has scored 20 or more points in two of his last four games after scoring that many only twice all season prior. He has also averaged 3.3 steals over his last four games.
Minnesota ranks seventh in the league in field goal percentage (46.3 percent) and third in free throw percentage (79.6 percent) but just 28th in 3-point percentage (33.4 percent). However, they recognize their limitations, attempting the second-fewest 3-pointers in the NBA per game at just 15.8. The problem for the T-Wolves is that they allow their opponents to shoot 47 percent from the field (28th in the NBA) and commit the ninth-most turnovers (15) per game.
Points: Andrew Wiggins (20.5)
Rebounds: Karl-Anthony Towns (10.3)
Assists: Ricky Rubio (8.8)
The Suns have nine games remaining to work on developing good habits before summer break kicks in. That doesn't leave much time for a team with so much left to improve. Phoenix very nearly extricated itself from a 20-point hole in the 2nd half against the playoff-bound Boston Celtics on Saturday — a day after losing by 22 points against the lottery-bound Sacramento Kings. This team is harder to pin down than a quantum particle.
Devin Booker remains a beacon of optimism for all Suns fans, sending his light out through the raging tempest and beckoning the storm weary to a more beautiful place — his future. After committing nine turnovers against Sacramento, he followed that game with a 21-point, 2-turnover game against the Celtics in which he was the most reliable Sun in crunch time. P.J. Tucker has played big (literally) in the past few games, taking up the slack left due to the infirmed Tyson Chandler and Jon Leuer by grabbing 10 rebounds in his last game as the starting power forward. Alex Len remains an enigma of such renown that The Riddler has already hatched a plan to use him against Batman. John Jenkins has not missed a 3-point shot in his last five games (9 of 9).
Points: Eric Bledsoe (20.4)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (8.5)
Assists: Eric Bledsoe (6.1)
Eric Bledsoe (Suns): left knee surgery (OUT)
T.J. Warren (Suns): right foot surgery (OUT)
Tyson Chandler (Suns): back spasms (QUESTIONABLE)
Jon Leuer (Suns): illness (QUESTIONABLE)
Kevin Garnett (Timberwolves): officially — knee soreness, unofficially — old (OUT)
Nikola Pekovic (Timberwolves): Achilles (OUT)
The Suns have taken two of the first three meetings between the two teams this season, with each team emerging victorious on its home court. Phoenix's wins have come by a total of 10 points, with a 108-101 win on Dec. 13 and a 107-104 win on Mar. 14 that saw Mirza Teletovic hit the game-winning 3-pointer. However, those games bookend a 117-87 whooping delivered by Minnesota on Jan. 17.
Tucker has done a solid job of limiting Wiggins this season, holding him to nearly three points below his season scoring average even though he's getting his numbers on 60-percent field goal shooting. Likewise, the Suns' big men have made life difficult for Towns thus far, keeping him to 13 points and eight rebounds in the three meetings. The problem for the Suns has been holding down the wild cards, including LaVine, Rubio, Dieng and even Shabazz Muhammad. Whether they can show better focus than they did against another poor team recently — the Kings — will go a long ways in determining the outcome tonight.
Zach LaVine vs. Devin Booker
The two-time Slam Dunk Champion has been far more than that against the Suns this season. He is averaging 22.3 points on 57.5-percent field goal shooting (53.3 percent from 3), providing a major lift to his team amid poorer showings from Wiggins (17.7 points) and Towns. As Booker marches toward becoming a star in this league, these are the matchups he needs to own. Containing LaVine while simultaneously leading his own team is a lot to ask of the NBA's youngest player, but he's shown no reason why it shouldn't be asked of him.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com and basketball-reference.com.