The struggling Minnesota Timberwolves have lost six consecutive games and will meet the surging Washington Wizards tonight at the Target Center.
Key Match Up
John Wall has struggled mightily since the All-Star break, but his streak may have come to an end last Sunday night against the Philadelphia 76ers. Wall, who shot just over 30 percent after the All-Star break, stepped up when the Wizards needed him most. With Bradley Beal out due to a sprained ankle, Wall scored six straight points which included a game sealing jump shot. After the win, Wall spoke about his improving confidence throughout the season. It’s evident that Wall’s confidence seems very fragile and moments such as one against the Sixers are a lot more meaningful for John Wall than it may be for other players. When Wall’s confidence is high, he’s virtually unstoppable. I’m pleased to see that Wall is a lot less passive in the past few games than he was a couple weeks ago. The last time the Wizards met the Wolves, John Wall took full advantage of his speed against Ricky Rubio. Rubio is considered an underrated defender throughout the NBA, but his lack of quickness and athleticism puts him at a severe disadvantage against Wall. It is important that Wall uses the tools he has to his advantage. Minnesota is plagued with injuries and don’t have many interior defenders, making Wall’s job a lot easier. With Bradley Beal out, Wall’s role in the scoring department will increase significantly.
After returning from an ACL injury this season, Ricky Rubio struggled to adjust right off the bat. His struggles were magnified in a loss against the Wizards earlier in the season in which Rubio shot just over 10 percent while scoring 4 points along side 6 assists. Since then, Rubio has continuously improved in every statistical category. Rubio’s shooting percentage is still not very good (35%), but his contributions in getting his teammates involved have steadily increased. With Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko all out due to various injuries, Rubio is forced to play along side teammates which would normally be key reserve players. Despite not having much talent surrounding him, Rubio is averaging close to 9 assists per game this month. That’s just a testament to how great of a distributor Rubio truly is. I’ll be interested to see how well he keeps up with John Wall.
- Bradley Beal will be out of tonight’s game and was limited to just shooting free throws in practice. I expect Garrett Temple to replace him in the starting lineup, although I’m hoping Randy Wittman decides to slide Martell Webster down to shooting guard. Webster has the second highest three point percentage in the NBA, so he’s more than capable of filling in for Beal’s shooting. With Webster at the guard position, Ariza could simply be placed at small forward.
- Beal’s injury seems rather insignificant when looking at Minnesota’s injury list. Kevin Love, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic are all out tonight. When healthy, the Timberwolves are almost certainly a playoff team.
- Despite being shorthanded, the Timberwolves are still a pretty good rebounding team. They’re ninth in rebounding and if you could recall, the Wizards struggled to crash defensive boards the last time the two teams met.
- Should Bradley Beal be the Rookie of the Year? I helped contribute to the WizardsXtra discussion piece, amongst plenty of other Wizards writers, on the topic.
- Washington will meet the Chicago Bulls in Brazil for a preseason game next season. I’m sure Nene is excited at the opportunity, but what about Leandro Barbosa?
- How can you not like Martell Webster and Garrett Temple? Here’s their rendition of the National Anthem. It’s full of awesomeness, to say the least.
Washington has a tendency to play very well against high level opponents, but continuously struggle against teams which they’re supposed to beat. With Kevin Love out, the Timberwolves have dropped 23 of their last 28. Needless to say, Washington should have no problem beating the Wolves tonight. John Wall needs to continue to improve, so Ricky Rubio should be a strong test for him. Both players aren’t having ideal seasons, since they’ve both dealt with unfortunate injuries.
Minnesota has virtually no depth, while Washington is still working to find a solid rotation. Jan Vesely, who hasn’t played since last month, has now found his way back into the rotation. Trevor Booker, Chris Singleton and even Cartier Martin may have opportunities to play against the lowly Timberwolves.
These types of games are must wins for Washington and I expect them to pick up their sixth road victory of the season tonight.