[Thanks to snellyoulater for today's game preview -yfbb]
The Bulls head up to Minneapolis to face an enigmanic Minnesota Timberwolves team. While the Timberwolves are a talented group and put up great statistics, they have dropped way out of the Western Conference playoff race.
As a team, the Timberwolves have the 9th best points differential in the league at +3.3 per game. The team averages106.7 points per game and gives up around 103. That translates into the 26th ranked team in the league in points allowed per game, but they are only fractions of a point away from playoff teams Portland, Phoenix and Houston.
The Timberwolves' lineup, when healthy, is stacked with talented offensive options and a good mix of height and size.Kevin Love is one of the most complete players in the league, while Kevin Martin is a dead eye shooter and Nikola Pekovic a dominant down low player. Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer are respectable options at their positions as well, and the bench has a good mix of scorers and solid defensive players.
Rick Adelman is a talented coach too and made a good reputation for himself in Sacramento and Houston for his teams overachieving. Heck, he was the Blazers coach in 1992 when the Bulls beat them in the finals. It's certainly an oddity that this team isn't meeting its potential and seems to not know how to win close games.
In my opinion, the team's performance casts some doubts on Kevin Love's ability. Obviously, he's very good, an unstoppable beast down low and in the pick and roll/pick and pop with his good three point shooting. He's probably one of the top five offensive talents in the NBA, but usually those players can will their team to the playoffs, and Love has failed to do that. I wonder if he has a killer instinct as a closer.
When the Bulls last played the Timberwolves on January 27th, they lost 95-86. The Bulls trailed throughout the game, playing without Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah, and Love did take over down the stretch in that game. He finish with a line of 31 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists and scored key baskets in the post and pick and roll in crunch time.
With Noah and Hinrich back, Martin and Pekovic out and the Bulls playing much better than they were in January, this is definitely a winnable game. Minnesota outscored the Bulls 46-36 in points in the paint and 22-7 on the fast break last time. That needs to change for the Bulls to win. Keeping Love and Gorgui Dieng off the offensive glass will be key as well. The Bull's characteristic smothering defense should be able to stop the Timberwolves' diminished repertoire of outside shooters, but they need to close out on shooters well too to win the game. It'll be fun to see how Dieng plays and how the Bulls contain a decent front line ahead of the playoffs. Imagining Kevin Love in a Bulls uniform could be fun as well. Maybe.