The Suns final stretch rolls on this afternoon, as they head up north to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves. They’ve had a day to rest after winning a single home game against the Pistons. With a majority of their final games on the road, the Suns need every win they can get. On their last trip, they beat the Celtics and the Raptors, then lost to the Nets. The currently sit at 16-16 on the road, meaning this game really is a tossup.
While the Wolves certainly aren’t an elite team, the Suns still have to approach this with their best foot forward. The last time these two teams played, the Wolves outlasted the Suns in Phoenix, and that damaged their playoff chances. Kevin Love is obviously a major factor in every game, and guys like Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio mean that the Suns’ backcourt must be ready to play good defense. The Wolves are operating at nearly full strength since many of their injured players have recovered.
Miles Plumlee vs. the Wolves frontcourt. I say the Wolves frontcourt because with Nikola Pekovic sitting with an ankle injury, it is uncertain who Miles Plumlee will end up matched against. It could be Gorgui Dieng or Kevin Love. Either way, Plumlee needs to put in a solid defensive effort. He needs to force Kevin Love to take more jump shots and threes. The Suns post defense is fairly weak, but when Miles Plumlee is on his game on that side of the ball, the shortcoming is reduced and sometimes eliminated.
Points scored. The Wolves are fourth in the NBA with 106.3 PPG. The Suns are sixth with 105.2. These are two fast, high octane offense with good shooting and passing up and down not only the starters, but the reserves as well. Whoever can slow up the other teams offense will likely take the win in this game.
Sleeper on the Wolves to watch out for:
Shabazz Muhammad. While once thought of as a top five pick, Muhammad fell to thirteenth and ended up joining the Wolves. He has spent some time in the NBA Development League and hasn’t been a consistent contributor off the bench. However, he did manage a good game against Phoenix. Last time these teams played, Muhammad scored 18 points, a career high and his second double digit scoring game of his rookie year. There’s clear examples of certain players just flipping a metaphorical on switch against certain teams, and Muhammad might tend to do that when facing the Suns.
What the offense should watch for:
Chances to score in the paint. Get Plumlee involved early, get Markieff off the bench, and so on. With no Pekovic, the Wolves interior presence on the defensive side is weakened, and the Suns should take advantage of that. The Wolves rank last in opponent field goal percentage at 47 percent, so the Suns are playing a defense that they have a chance to take advantage of to get easy buckets or draw fouls and get points from the charity stripe.
What the defense should watch for:
Kevin Love. He is averaging 26.5 PPG on 47 percent shooting and 39 percent from long range. He was a major offensive threat in the last matchup and can score in many ways. The Suns defense needs to make getting in his way their number one priority, or he can go a personal run of 30 or 40 points in the game, which would make it much harder for the Suns to get this needed win.
The “must win” intensity gives Phoenix an edge. The Suns start their road stand with a 113-107 victory against the Timberwolves.