The Minnesota Timberwolves have just eight games left in the season, but there is no question that team is looking to end the campaign on a high-note. This season was supposed to be one in which the Timberwolves were competing for, at the very least, one of the four play-in seeds, but a variety of issues to their star players kept this team from their goal.
Last night was just the 15th game in which Minnesota had both Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell on the floor together, and the result was their ninth victory when those two play together. The sample size is limited, but the returns are extremely positive. When both Russell and Towns are on the floor together the Timberwolves average 119.3 points per 100 possessions, and 104.3 points every 100 plays in the halfcourt. This offense is downright great when these two play together, and bettors saw it last night when they dropped 1.25 points per possession on the Warriors.
Minnesota wants to build the continuity between its two stars. Head coach Chris Finch has used the second half of the season to implement his system, and this team has made it clear the objective is to build toward next season.
“I just think that we are playing good basketball,” said Karl-Anthony Towns in media availability last night. “We keep growing every single day, and that is all you can ask for. I think for us, you’re seeing we’re putting, brick by brick, something [special] together.”
It is rare in today’s NBA to see a team already eliminated from contention try to win games in waning weeks, but that is what the Timberwolves are doing. They are 5-1 ATS in their last six games, and I would expect that trend to continue over the final eight contests.
Updated odds for every game can be found here.
Updated injury reports for every game can be found here.
*Indicates team is on the second leg of a back-to-back.
The Main Event
Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns (-5, 225.5)
The first overall seed is on the line tonight in Phoenix, and the home team will have the slight edge over its opponent. Utah comes in after dismantling Sacramento 154-105 but they will be short-handed. Mike Conley is going to miss his second consecutive game with a hamstring injury and Donovan Mitchell is still sidelined. The Jazz are still a fantastic team without those two, outscoring opponents by 8.3 points every 100 possessions when they are off the floor, but how does that play out over the course of a whole game against a team like Phoenix?
The Suns have covered their last two games, but quietly their defense has been sliding a bit. Over the last 17 games Phoenix has allowed 115.3 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time, and even the short-handed Clippers managed 1.135 points per possession on Wednesday night. That defensive regression seems somewhat real as the sample size grows, and that will be worrisome against a Utah team that still scores 116.4 points per 100 possessions and shoots 40.4% from deep without Conley and Mitchell.
Still, the Suns have controlled this series up to this point. Phoenix is 2-0 SU and ATS with a + 6.2 net rating against Utah this season. The Suns have held the Jazz to 1.01 points per possession on offense and a combined 23-of-78 (29.5%) from beyond the arc in those two games. On top of that, Chris Paul and company have exploited the Jazz’s statistically weak mid-range defense. Utah allows the second-most mid-range attempts of any team in the league this season. That is by design, as those mid-range shots are some of the least efficient in basketball. However, Phoenix lives in that area of the floor. They take the sixth-most attempts from mid-range (35.4%) and lead the league in shooting percentage on mid-range shots (49.0%). That has played out in the season series, as the Suns are 34-of-74 (45.9%) on mid-range shots against the Jazz.
The Co-Main Event
Portland Trail Blazers at Brooklyn Nets* (-1.5, 241.5)
It is unknown if Kyrie Irving or Bruce Brown will be on the floor tonight for Brooklyn, but given the play of Portland’s defense recently it might not matter. Sure, the Trail Blazers smoked the Grizzlies on Wednesday night, but a poor shooting night kept Memphis to 0.989 points per possession against Portland, not their defense. The Trail Blazers are currently 29th in non-garbage time defensive efficiency (117.1), and they must somehow contain the best offense in the league tonight in Brooklyn (119.4).
Kevin Durant flying solo might scare some bettors off this game, but it really shouldn't. In Durant’s minutes on the floor without James Harden or Irving, the Nets are outscoring opponents by just 15.7 points every 100 possessions. Their offensive rating of 127.5 ranks in the 100th percentile of lineups in the NBA, and the only allow 111.7 per 100 possessions defensively. Those are some pretty good numbers, and the areas from which those lineups generate their offense do not bode well for Portland. With Durant alone, Brooklyn takes 33.7% of its attempts from within four feet and shoot 74.8% on those attempts. How does a team that allows the fourth-most rim attempts and 64.7% within four feet guard against that?
Now, it is the second leg of a back-to-back and Durant has played in both legs of a back-to-back just once this season. It would not be surprising to see him sit, so monitor the injury reports and social media today. It is also worth pointing out that Brooklyn is not perfect defensively either. The Nets struggle to defend above-the-break 3-pointers, and Portland just so happens to lead the league in non-corner 3-point attempts and shoots 38.9% on those attempts. It is not out of the realm of possibility for the Blazers to carry over their hot shooting into a matchup against a subpar perimeter defense.
Then there is the chance that neither Irving or Durant play today. If that is the case, Brooklyn becomes incredibly average, outscoring opponents but just 0.8 points per 100 possessions. Their offense manages just 109.7 points per game in those minutes. That is not a team I want to wager my taxed income on.
San Antonio Spurs at Boston Celtics (-4.5, 224.5)
Kemba Walker is considered doubtful to play for Boston today, and San Antonio lost Derrick White for the season. Still, this game still holds a great amount of importance for both teams in the playoff picture. Boston found its suddenly non-existent offense against Charlotte on Wednesday, but that does not change the fact that the Celtics scored no more than 1.052 points per possession the five games prior to that. One would think they can keep the good vibes going on offense against a Spurs team that is giving up 111.9 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break, but San Antonio has been a wild team defensively. Their last two opponents combined to score 125.7 points per 100 possessions, but four of their five opponents prior to that were held to 1.009 points per possession or lower. Which defense shows up tonight in Beantown?
Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Lakers (-9.5, 224.5)
Yesterday, I wrote about the overvalued nature of Los Angeles now that Anthony Davis is back, but taking another shot against them with this version of Sacramento is iffy. The Kings were slaughtered by Utah on Wednesday. The Jazz dropped 1.547 points per possession, shot a combined 31-of-49 (63.3%) at the rim and beyond the arc and won by 49 points. Can we trust this Kings team to show up today? De’Aaron Fox is still out, Harrison Barnes is questionable and Marvin Bagley is playing his first game since March 15th. The market has already moved in the Kings’ direction, something I agree with, but there is no value in where the number is right now.
Atlanta Hawks at Philadelphia 76ers (-9, 222.5)
Trae Young, Clint Capela and Bogdan Bogdanovic are all considered questionable to play today, and Kevin Huerter is doubtful. With so many key players’ status unknown, it is nearly impossible to handicap this game before we know who is going to be available. Philadelphia crushed the short-handed Hawks earlier this week, averaging 1.374 points per possession in a 127-83 blowout at home. The 76ers really throttled the Hawks in transition, starting 20.6% of their possessions with a transition play and averaging 1.727 points per play. That likely won’t happen again, but it is hard to see Atlanta have success on offense against this defense without Young on the floor.
Milwaukee Bucks* (-5, 220.5) at Chicago Bulls
Giannis Antetokounmpo tweaked his ankle less than 30 seconds into the Bucks’ loss to the Rockets on Thursday night, and he never returned. We can probably expect Giannis not to play on this second leg of a back-to-back, which means we can likely expect another poor defensive performance from Milwaukee. When Antetokounmpo is off the floor this season the Bucks give up 117.1 points per 100 possessions, and that was on full display when they allowed the Rockets to scored 1.315 points per possession while shooting 25-of-46 from deep. Do you really expect this team’s defense to show up against Chicago? Sure, the Bulls rank 25th in offensive efficiency over their last seven games, but bettors have seen nothing to convince them to lay points on the road with this team when Giannis is not playing.
Washington Wizards (-7, 223.5) at Cleveland Cavaliers
It looks the betting market has finally started to respect this Washington team. The Wizards improved to 11-2 SU/10-2-1 ATS with a + 5.7 net rating after defeating the Lakers earlier this week. One of those wins was at home against this very Cleveland team. In that win the Wizards were a 7.5-point favorite at home, but they now lay that same number on the road. In that win Washington averaged 1.229 points per possession but they allowed Cleveland to put up a 113.4 offensive rating that night. The Wizards barely got there at home, winning 119-110, so do we trust them to lay the same number on the road?