Jan 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) drives to the basket past Minnesota Timberwolves forward Ed Davis (17) while guard Josh Okogie (20) looks on in the second quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs have a great chance to right the ship tonight
After being thoroughly dismantled by the Memphis Grizzlies during their last two games, the San Antonio Spurs have a great chance to avoid a three-game losing streak tonight. The Minnesota Timberwolves are in town to face what is hopefully a ticked off and motivated Spurs team.
The Timberwolves themselves are no strangers to losing streaks. They’re 5-15 on the season but don’t overlook them just because of their record.
The Spurs are already quite familiar with this year’s Wolves squad. They split a series with the Wolves up in the Twin Cities earlier in the season and if they show up with the same energy they did in their previous two games they’ll end up handing the series lead to Minnesota.
Despite his declining play, Aldridge remains a key part of the Spurs. In his absence, look for a big night from Jakob Poeltl. His matchup with the Timberwolves frontcourt is the first in our look at the battles that will define tonight’s game.
Can Jakob Poeltl lock down the paint for the San Antonio Spurs?
One of the most embarrassing parts of the most recent loss to the Memphis Grizzlies was watching them dominate the Spurs in the paint. Assuming he takes over the starting spot, Jakob Poeltl is going to have to bring an edge if San Antonio wants to avoid a repeat performance.
He had a slow start to the season but Poeltl has been finding his way lately for San Antonio. He still needs to work out a few things on the offensive end of the floor and especially from the free-throw line, but defensively he’s been improving.
He’s averaged 1.8 blocks per game over the past ten games and will have an excellent chance to assert his dominance over the shorthanded Wolves frontcourt tonight. Minnesota will be without Karl-Anthony Towns who remains out as he works his way through the league’s procedures after testing positive for COVID-19.
In KAT’s absence, the Wolves frontcourt consists of Ed Davis, Naz Reid, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Jake Layman. With all due respect to all of them, this is a game that Poelt should leave his fingerprints all over.
These are the kinds of games that the Spurs were counting on Poeltl to show up for when they signed him to an extension this offseason. This season was going to be a mix of him spelling Aldridge while also showing that he can be the center that San Antonio builds around. Tonight, he’ll have a chance to do both at once.
Next: A battle of attacking wings
Jan 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson (3) goes up for a shot past Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jarrett Culver (23) in the first quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
Keldon Johnson vs. Anthony Edwards is prime-time entertainment
Hands down the most exciting matchup tonight is between Anthony Edwards and Keldon Johnson. The two young wings are both ferocious attackers of the rim and share an endless motor and impressive physicality. You’re going to want popcorn for this one.
One of the things that has stood out most about Keldon’s game is just how many of his points come in the paint. We highlighted his hilarious shot chart in our recap of last night’s game and if you compare it to his opponents you can see some similarities.
Edwards has expanded his game to the mid-range more frequently than Johnson has but he still prefers to get the majority of his looks from behind the three-point line or at the rim. With KAT out, the Wolves have been leaning on Edwards more and more. Johnson’s ability to shut him down is going to go a long way towards getting San Antonio a much-needed win.
On the other side of the ball, it’ll be interesting to see how the Wolves try to slow down Keldon. Even when they had KAT, Minnesota wasn’t great at defending the paint. They’re allowing their opponents to rack up 51.2 points per game in the paint, the second-worst mark in the league. That plays right into what Keldon wants to do on offense.
For all of his strength and athleticism, I’m still not sure Edwards will be able to stay in front of Keldon all night. And with subpar defenders blocking the rim, Johnson should have plenty of opportunities to get good looks. This is shaping up to be a potentially great matchup for the Spurs young slasher.
Next: Bench units go at it
Jan 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) drives to the basket against San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills (8) in the third quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
Can the San Antonio Spurs second unit give them the lift they need?
With their starting lineup playing like a middle of the pack bunch, the San Antonio Spurs have leaned on their second unit to carry them to wins this year. The bench mob has come thorugh as the third ranked group in the league in terms of total plus/minus.
A deeper look at the numbers details just how dominant the Spurs bench has been this season. Andy Bailey, an NBA writer for Bleacher Report, recently tweeted out a list of the top three-man units in the NBA and there were a lot of familiar faces in the top-ten.
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) January 31, 2021
Different combinations of Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray, Devin Vassell, Rudy Gay, and Jakob made up four of the top-ten three man combinations. That’s outstanding and a huge reason why the Spurs have been as compettive as they’ve been this season.
Tonight they’ll face a Timberwolves second unit that has been one of the worst in the league. They’re 24th in the league in total plus minus and are cetainly going to have their hands full with this Spurs bunch, especially with Derrick White joining the second unit the past two games.
After how they played in their last two games, the San Antonio Spurs should be coming into tonight’s matchup with something to prove. This one has all the makings of a blowout. It goes down tonight at 7:30 pm CST.