Nov 8, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin (23) is pressured by Miami Heat forward Luol Deng (9) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 102-92. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The Minnesota Timberwolves (2-4) sustained a big blow when Ricky Rubio went down with a horrific injury in a contest with the Orlando Magic.
While the Timberwolves have a capable backup point guard in Mo Williams, this all affects the Wolves’ depth and second unit, with Williams not there to jack up shots.
1) Let Kevin Martin Get His; James Harden Attacks
Kevin Martin has no problems trying to take over games; fortunately for the Rockets, he rarely does. While Martin is a strong scoring threat, the Rockets will likely counter by putting Trevor Ariza on him.
Ariza is capable of containing Martin without a lot of help from teammates, but help defense isn’t as imperative since the Wolves lack three-point threats, outside of Thaddeus Young. Martin has averaged 19.6 points per game, and he’s still getting to the line for 5.8 free throws a game at a 96.6 percent clip thus far.
Nov 7, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) blocks Minnesota Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin (23) shot during the second half at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 112-103 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Martin has been inconsistent and he struggled his last game out, attempting just eight shots against the Pistons to score 12 points. Two nights prior to that, he lit up the Chicago Bulls for 33 points while knocking down 11-of-11 from the line. Martin is a scorer, but he’s not enough to carry the Wolves to an underdog victory.
While Martin may put up numbers, he may draw the task of guarding Harden if Andrew Wiggins isn’t put on Harden as a major test of his defensive skills. Either way, he’s against a poor defending bet or an inexperience rookie. Harden could erupt in this game.
2) Kostas Papanikolaou Has to Step Up Defensively
Both Thaddeus Young and Kostas Papanikolaou are essentially oversized small forwards that function well in the high post as power forwards, while starting at the 4-spot too. Young has been efficient this year and averages 15.7 points per game while knocking down 50 percent from the floor and 32 percent from behind the arc. Young is good defensively, playing passing lanes and chasing down loose balls.
Measuring consistency, consider that in Young’s last five games, he has scored 12 points or more in four of five.
Nov 8, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Thaddeus Young (33) shoots over Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 102-92. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Papa Kostas is still struggling to adjust to the NBA. He had five turnovers and two points in the loss to Golden State. Kostas hit just 1-of-9 from the floor, but he’s had his fair share of good games this season and shows a natural ability to flow within the Rockets’ transition offense. He gets to the hole, and while he’s not as good as Terrence Jones, he’s sufficient to fill the 4-spot until Jones returns.
Jan 6, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14) dunks during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
3) Be Competitive on the Glass
Minnesota may be just 2-4, but the Wolves have been a good team on the glass. Minnesota ranks 6th in the NBA with 45 rebounds a game, led by Nikola Pekovic’s 8.5 per game. Howard has called Pek one of the toughest and strongest centers in the game. Gorgui Dieng is also a threat off the bench, and he protects the rim well. Dieng leads the team in blocks per game (1.67) while also pulling down seven boards in 18 minutes a game (14 rebounds per-36).
Dwight Howard is a beast on the boards, but the other Rockets need to step up or the Wolves could beat up the Rockets on the interior. Given that Omer Asik is gone, Howard and the Rockets will have a tough time matching up with a duo like Pekovic and Dieng. The Rockets lack a backup center, and it’s going to be interesting to see if Tarik Black is able to matchup with Dieng.