Western Conference strugglers the Minnesota Timberwolves travel east to face the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center hoping to end a worrying two-game losing skid, live on Sky Sports Arena on Friday at 5pm.
The visiting Timberwolves (7-11) responded well to the exit of their All-Star guard Jimmy Butler who, after a drawn-out saga, was eventually traded away to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Live NBA: Minnesota @ Brooklyn
Without the disgruntled Butler, the T’Wolves reeled off three successive wins only to then stumble to two home losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets.
Those defeats leave Minnesota second from bottom in the Western Conference. However, with many of the West’s best teams struggling for consistency, there is plenty of time for them to catch up and push their way into the playoff places.
The Nets (8-11) also suffered the loss of a star player, albeit in vastly different circumstances. Caris LeVert, who had established himself as the team’s best player in the opening weeks of the season, suffered a gruesome-looking leg injury during Brooklyn’s 120-113 loss at Minnesota on November 13.
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The silver lining for LeVert is that the injury was not the career-changing incident observers feared. He was diagnosed with moderate ligament damage, will not need foot surgery and is expected to return later this season.
In the five games since LeVert’s injury, the Nets have lost three of their five games and slipped to ninth in the Eastern Conference standings.
Key Battle: Jarrett Allen vs Karl-Anthony Towns
On paper, this should be a mis-match. Towns, at his best, is one of the league’s 10 best players. On the court, he remains maddeningly inconsistent. He produced a 25-point, 16-rebound performance to out-duel MVP candidate Anthony Davis in a Wolves victory over the New Orleans Pelicans only to follow that up with a limp 15-point outing in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
If Towns does not bring his ‘A-game’ against the Nets, he could be bullied into ineffectiveness by Jarrett Allen, whose toughness and size make him a challenging opponent close to the basket at both ends of the court.
Last time out
35.4 – That’s the Nets’ three-point shooting percentage, it’s narrowly better than the league’s average mark this season.
That number is pedestrian but what is interesting about it is that the Nets attempt the third-most threes (34.4 per game) and make the second-most (12.2 per game).
The Nets are playing the ‘maths’, in keeping with the principles so dominant in today’s NBA.
Even though they are not an elite shooting team, a reliance of the three-ball is their best way of bridging the gap between themselves and more talented teams.
One to watch (Timberwolves): Derrick Rose
Amid franchise drama and changing personnel, the Rose renaissance – triggered by a 50-point performance in a victory over the Utah Jazz – continues.
The 2012 MVP, whose career has been blighted by serious injuries, has provided Minnesota with a consistent scoring punch off the bench. Averaging 21.6 points per game over his last seven games and shooting at career-best field goal percentages (particularly from three-point land), Rose is certain to offer entertaining minutes against the T’Wolves.
One to watch (Nets): D’Angelo Russell
The long-term absence of LeVert offers Russell an extended opportunity to establish himself as a leading point guard.
Unfortunately for the former Laker, he has tasted and wasted these chances before.
Now in his fourth year in the league, Russell remains inconsistent, equally capable of turning in a game-winning performance (23 points on 50 per cent shooting in Brooklyn’s win against the Washington Wizards) or a stinker (three points on 33.3 per cent shooting in a loss to the Miami Heat).
Which version of Russell will we see against the Timberwolves?
Friday night's games
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