Raptors vs Timberwolves Gameday Preview: Raps Look to Continue Recent Surge

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

The Toronto Raptors are on the road tonight in Minnesota to take on the Wolves. Joshua Santos breaks down the match.

The Toronto Raptors are back in action tonight as they travel to the mountainous city of Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves.

As the Raptors come off a win over the Sacramento Kings Friday night, tonight's matchup will be the final game of two meetings between both ball clubs for this season.

The Wolves currently hold the third seed in the northwest division, and sit 10th in the Western Conference with 31 wins and 30 losses. They're only four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies and six behind the Dallas Mavericks, who at present have the eighth and last spot in the playoff race.

The Raptprs and Wolves met each other earlier this season, back in early January, when the Raps narrowly escaped with the W over the Wolves in ugly fashion. The Raps won that game with a final score of 93-89, as Kyle Lowry scored 24 points, six of which were three pointers, marking their 10th straight home win against Minnesota.

As Raptors HQ author, Kinnon Yee wrote in his game recap, Greivis Vasquez and Amir Johnson struggled to be productive on either end of the court, while Timberwolves' tough guy, Nikola Pekovic, kept muscling his way inside the painted area, causing a major headache for the Dinos.

While Pekovic kept the Wolves in that game, tonight the Raps may see a different side of him as Nikola is coming off an ankle sprain that kept him out for the whole month of February.

On the perimeter, the Wolves may be weak as well as sharpshooting specialist Kevin Martin is coming back from a non-displaced fracture in his thumb. Martin as well made his return the same night Pekovic did, scoring 26 points, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals. The Wolves went 4-3 without him and considering his 26 point performance, it's hard to say the Raps will definitely have an advantage in this area.

Toronto is dealing with a little injury issue of its own with both Terrence Ross and Kyle Lowry fighting through on and off again ankle issues. Ross looked fine against the Kings on Friday night though, dropping in 18 points as one of the five Raptors to score in double-digit figures that night, finishing +11.

On account of Minnesota's recent turmoil, this game looks like it should favour the visiting Toronto Raptors. However the Wolves still present a challenge to the Raps. Here are our three keys for Raptors win.

1) Force Turnovers:

Like every other game against any other opponent, every possession is crucial. Whether you're up 10 or down 10, the Raps should use any weakness to their advantage for easy buckets. One big flaw the Wolves have is taking care of the ball.

Minnesota currently ranks second in turnover ratio, just behind Charlotte, with their two biggest stars, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio contributing the most to the team's sloppy ball handles. With Love and Rubio averaging a combined 5.15 turnovers per game, the team averages 13.77 turnovers per game, according to NBA.com

Dwane Casey needs to reinforce his guys to try to steal the ball when the opportunity presents itself if they want to secure the W. Exploit it to their benefit, and the Raps should manage to leave Target Center with the win.

2) Take control of the boards:

The Wolves are a strong rebounding team. Love alone ranks second in rebounding, averaging 13.2 rebounds per game just behind Los Angeles Clippers DeAndre Jordan averages 13.7. Love's understudy, Muscleman Pekovic, ranks 21st with 9.1 rebounds per game.

Whoever takes charge of the rebounding game, will most likely have the final outcome swing in their favour. This is why you should expect Casey to implement Jonas Valancuinas and Amir Johnson throughout the game to play heavy minutes.

Despite Valancuinas' recent struggles of scoring in the paint, and turning the ball over, he's able use his size to be productive and get easy rebounds. He averages 8.5 rebounds per game with a rebounding percentage of 18.0. This season against the Wolves, Jonas has been able to secure 29.7 percent of rebounds.

Outside of the Wolves' big men, the team as a collective are solid on the glass, possessing an offensive rebounding percentage of 28 percent, and have an overall rebounding percentage of 51.1. This puts them behind only the Detroit Pistons, Portland Trailblazers and Chicago Bulls, all of which are teams known for their superior glass-cleaners.

Casey will have to get his entire squad to focus on rebounding tonight, not only to secure the win, but to avoid another closely contested game like their last matchup against the Wolves.

3) Get inside the paint:

Just like the games against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Wolves have a weakness for allowing their opponents to shoot inside the paint. Minnesota in fact is actually last in the league in opponent field goal percentage from in close, allowing teams to shoot 62.9 percent within five feet of the hoop. This is probably no surprise considering that while Love and Pek are great rebounders, neither are shot-blockers or traditional rim protectors.

In fact, individually, Kevin Love allows his opponents to shoot 57.1 percent at the rim, while Pekovic allows his opponents to shoot 55.1 percent at the rim. Essentially, they're ranked at the bottom for centres in this department, something Toronto needs to take advantage of tonight. The three-point shot has served the club well of late, but tonight the team needs to put an emphasis on attacking the rim.

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