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Raptors visit hungry Timberwolves: Preview, start time, and more

Right now Minneapolis is the place to be, and the Raptors will try to disrupt a big sports weekend.

Toronto Raptors v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

As a real and true Winnipegger, my best vacation spot within an eight hour drive is the lovely city of Minneapolis. Yes, stop laughing Torontonians, it’s the best option when weighed against Regina and... Thompson? There’s not much around here.

And hey, Minneapolis is a nice place. In fact, it’s so nice, the football people thought they should host a Super Bowl there. This weekend, their team even gets a chance to play in the Super Bowl, as the Vikings host the NFC Championship.

All this, and Minneapolis’ hometown Timberwolves are playing well. After winning five straight and climbing to the third spot in the West, the Wolves have dropped two straight to Orlando (yuck) and Houston (understandable). Now, they come home hungry to play the Raptors.

So here’s Toronto, ready to play spoiler to the beginning of a big ol’ sports weekend in the Twin Cities. After a win against the Spurs, it’s proving time once again — let’s get into the details.

Where to Watch

TSN 1/4, 9:00 PM EST

Lineups

Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas

Minnesota - Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson, Karl-Anthony Towns

Injuries

Toronto - Fred VanVleet

Minnesota - none

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Jimmy Butler: The Chicago Curse, Humanized

Does the Chicago curse live on in Jimmy Butler? While the Raptors have figured out his old club, they’ve never been able to stop Butler himself. In three games last year, Butler averaged 32.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 2.7 steals against the Raptors. More like Jebron BuJames! Sorry.

More bad news for the Raptors: Butler is getting better. He’s come on as a sure All-Star in the last month with the Timberwolves, finding his role as a vocal leader on a team that needed one. In the last ten games, he’s shown that comfort — shooting 49% from the field and 46% from three.

Needless to say, these are tough shoes for OG Anunoby to stick with (who will surely be the first guy to take him on). The Raptors can’t only focus on Butler, either — with Anunoby on Butler, DeRozan will have to guard Andrew Wiggins, which is challenging in itself. We’ll see how the Raptors backcourt deals with the three major threats the Wolves present, including Jeff Teague. This game could be won or lost on guards alone.

Offensive Toughness

This is one of my favourite Jack Armstrong-isms, even though I don’t entirely know what it means. I’ll use it this way: after two ugly wins against Detroit and San Antonio, the Raptors need to rely on more than one hero against Minnesota. They need to run their offense, and take good shots when they’re available.

The Timberwolves are getting better on the defensive end, and Tom Thibodeau knows how to force guards into difficult situations. If Fred VanVleet is still out of the lineup, someone else is going to have to make outside shots with consistency — C.J. Miles, Anunoby, and Kyle Lowry are candidates. So many Raptors games are going to come down to this. When you’re going against Butler, though, shooters have to be even more dialed in.

Ability to Play Small

Jonas Valanciunas is not going to be able to guard Karl-Anthony Towns. I mean, there’s a chance he can, but I’m taking a leap of faith here. Odds are that the Raptors are going to have to spend a lot of this game playing smaller — with Jakob Poeltl or Serge Ibaka as the centre — just to stay with Minnesota’s skilled big.

Valanciunas, though, has been firing on all cylinders for more than two weeks now. If he indeed plays limited minutes in this one, the Raptors’ other bigs will need to focus on rebounding, and finishing possessions to force transition. If not, it could be a night of strange mismatches.