Offensive rating: Spurs – 105.8 (4th), Timberwolves – 101.9 (14th)
Defensive rating: Spurs – 101.9 (17th), Timberwolves – 101.5 (15th)
Pace: Spurs – 94.3 (11th), Timberwolves – 96.0 (5th)
I’ll just leave you with a brief aside before I get into my game preview of tonight’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Today, as most of you know, is the day that the San Antonio Spurs honor all of Bruce Bowen’s achievements with the franchise. It is a great honor and his jersey definitely belongs alongside Sean Elliot, George Gervin, Avery Johnson and David Robinson despite his 6.1 points per game average. His defense was invaluable to our championship teams. His professionalism and sense of humor exemplify the kind of character guys that R.C. Buford loves to obtain. He was the epitomy of a great Spur — deficient in one area, played with energy, excelled in his role and was completely happy with being confined to five shots per game. I don’t think I’ll ever witness a defender that is willing and capable of guarding any superstar. His intensity, technique and perseverance are very rare qualities in a basketball player (here’s hoping that Kawhi Leonard can become Bowen 2.0). Thanks for everything, Bruce. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Three things to watch.
No Ricky Rubio. This will be Minnesota’s seventh game without their perspicacious point guard, Ricky Rubio. They have struggled mightily since Rubio was sidelined for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL on Mar. 9, winning only two out of six games. Rubio had a big impact on the Timberwolves (87-79) victory over the Spurs on Jan. 27. He posted a wholesome line of 18 points, four rebounds, 10 assists and one 3-pointer while shooting 7-12 from the field (.583 field goal percentage). Minnesota isn’t one of the most selfless teams in the league and without Rubio (36.3 assist rate) their already below-average assist rate will continue to decrease.
Size matters. Aside from Rubio, the Timberwolves were able to take advantage of their frontcourt girth and the Spurs, well, lack of that same girth down low. More than anything, their significant advantage on the boards is the reason they have already clinched the season series over the Spurs. 6’11” behemoth Nikola Pekovic and rebounding wizard Kevin Love form one of the most proficient rebounding tandems in the NBA. Love is an elite defensive rebounder while Pekovic forgoes defensive rebounds for offensive rebounds (17.6 offensive rebound rate). In two games against the Spurs, the Timberwolves have outscored the Spurs in the paint by 32 points. Without the volume of easy putbacks and shots at the rim maybe the Spurs would’ve clinched the season series and not Minnesota.
3-point defense. The Spurs are the only team in the NBA shooting better than 40 percent from behind the arc. Their bevy of shooters make it hard for opposing teams to focus singularly on one shooter. To date, Minnesota only allows 17.7 attempts compared to the league average of 18.3. They’ve done a nice job in running teams off the 3-point line and preventing them from making 3-point shots with any semblance of consistency. Defending the 3-point line will definitely come in handy if Minnesota wants to win. Without Rubio their offense hasn’t depreciated. It is their porous defense (108.0 DefEff in last six games) that has hampered their team.
Final verdict. Spurs by eight. The combination of three consecutive days of rest, a fully healthy roster and no Rubio make this a game that I can’t see the Spurs losing. Plus, we are honoring Bruce Bowen’s achievements and that should give us some intangible incentive to win.