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Preview: Suns host Wolves with both teams eyeing playoff chances

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Somehow, the Wolves and Suns are still in the playoff race in the West, despite terrible starts to their seasons.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

What: Minnesota Timberwolves (16-28) vs. Phoenix Suns (15-29)

When: 7:00 PM AZ Time

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


Somehow, the Suns and Wolves have had largely parallel records all season long. Both teams lost a lot of games early, have recently been on a “hot” streak, and are both straddling the fence of counting ping pong balls while also counting games out of playoff position.

The Wolves are one game ahead of the Suns in the West standings, 2.5 games out of the 8th position in a top-heavy West, while the Suns are just 3.5 out. It’s a bad year in the West.

The Wolves

After a 10-22 start, the Wolves are 6-6 in their last 12 games, just like the Suns, with the league’s 19th ranked offense and 11th ranked defense in that time and second-slowest pace (possessions per game). Tom Thibodeau’s teachings are taking hold in small increments, as shown in the defense improvement and slow pace for such a young, athletic team.

Karl-Anthony Towns is dominating with 24 points, 13.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.8 blocks per game during this 6-6 stretch for the Wolves, while Andrew Wiggins is at 21.7 points and 4.4 rebounds.

The Suns

In the first 32 games, the 9-23 Suns were 22nd in offense, 26th in defense, with a net rating of -5.6 points per 100 possessions (roughly per game, since the Suns averaged 103.6 possessions per game, ranking 2nd).

Surprisingly, the early-season 9-23 Suns were better in “clutch” situations (ahead or behind by 5 or less, within 5 minutes of end of game) than the rest of the game, netting an 8-13 record with a -1.2 points per 100 possessions. Their 1-10 record in remaining games tells you that sometimes the team just didn’t come to play, and only once closed out a win that didn’t get within 5 points.

In the past 12 games games, the 6-6 Suns are perfectly average across the board: 14th on offense, 15th on defense, with a net rating of -0.2 points per 100 possessions (with the Suns slowing down to 96.7 possessions per game, ranking 24th).

As you know, Devin Booker suddenly found his shot. Booker is 14th in scoring in the league over the past 12 games (24.9 PPG), making 47.5% of his 5.1 three-pointers per game. As well, PG Eric Bledsoe is suddenly 7th in assists per game over the last 12, while ranking 19th in scoring (23.4).

Season series (Wolves 2-0)

The Suns are 0-2 against the Wolves this year, but the home loss was a crazy weird one even for a bad Suns team. The Suns had a strong lead in the 4th quarter at home in mid-November, only to put up a paltry 10 fourth quarter points to turn an 8-point lead into a 13-point loss.

In December the two teams matched up in Minnesota, but the Wolves pulled it out again with a 115-107 win.

Prediction

The Suns are at home, where they are just under .500 on the year, and they’re on a roll. The Wolves are making progress too, but just aren’t as hot as the Suns.

I am actually going to.... (drum roll please)... predict... (crossing fingers, closing eyes)... a Suns... (holding breath)... WIN tonight over the Wolves.