The Minnesota Timberwolves are coming to town with their duo of 21-year olds, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins (used to be trio with Zach LaVine). At this point in the season for Utah it isn’t win of go home, it’s win and you get to play at home in the playoffs.
So what are we looking at today?
Who the heck is playing?
Utah’s injury report contains five players as of Thursday. Derrick Favors (Questionable, knee), George Hill (Doubtful, groin), Rodney Hood (Questionable, knee), Jeff Withey (Questionable, illness) and Raul Neto (Questionable, groin). Dante Exum was not on the report even though he left the Jazz’s last game early with a hip injury.
This game could end up looking completely different depending on who the training staff and coaches feel is ready to play when it’s time for tip-off. My gut instinct tell me that the Jazz will be cautious and rest everyone even if they’re at 90 percent. But I’ve been wrong before.
Derrick Favors will be of particular interest as it seems prudent to get him on the court for a few games before the playoffs.
Can the Jazz win when the pressure’s on?
Last year the Jazz were in the playoff hunt up until the dying moments of the regular season. But when push came to shove, the Jazz couldn’t put together a string of wins.
Utah lost four of its last five (game 82 didn’t matter though because Utah had already been eliminated) including the loss against the Mavericks 101-92 which eliminated them from the postseason.
This year the Jazz aren’t vying for a playoff spot. That has already been secured. Instead Utah is trying to land home-court advantage in the first round. The Jazz control their destiny in this case. But that adds pressure. Past experience says the Jazz can’t handle it. Has the core grown enough since last April?
Battle of the boards
The T-Wolves are third in the league in offensive rebound percentage (27.5). The Jazz are third in defensive rebound percentage (79.1). Against Utah this season, Minnesota has not done better or worse in terms of ORBs, averaging 12.0 in three games—just a touch over their average of 11.6.
Rudy Gobert is the only (healthy) player on the Jazz who is worth his salt rebound-wise. He’ll have to battle the two-headed rebounding monster of Towns and Gorgui Dieng, who combine to average 19.9 rebounds per game, the most of any PF/C duo who have started at least 60 games.
Hopefully, Rudy will enjoy the challenge. And hopefully he’ll get some help from the rest of the bigs, assuming we still have any healthy ones.
It’s been confirmed Exum will play. But will the injury set him back slightly in terms of being aggressive? He’s done well this season to maintain aggression on offense and play defense despite biased referees. And he’ll need to bring that since he’ll most likely start.
Exum will need to play effective defense on the crafty Ricky Rubio. Rubio is about as much a threat to score as I am, but he manages to dish out 9.1 assists anyway. If Exum can do his part to slow that down while limiting the fouls, it could go a long way.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins
Win or lose it’s always nice to see good players, even when they’re not on your team. At the young age of 21, both of these guys are averaging more points per game than Gordon Hayward is averaging in his seventh. And yes, there’s more to the game than just scoring, but these kids are going to be special in a few years. Like, really special.
And we can all dream of the day when Gobert and Towns, in their primes, are doing mighty battle in the Western Conference Finals.