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Raptors host road-weary Wolves: Preview, start time, and more

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The Raptors see the Wolves for the second time in as many weeks, this time on home soil.

Toronto Raptors v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

It’s Tuesday my dudes, and I hope you’re excited for a matchup of two teams going through solid, yet clunky, Januaries.

The Minnesota Timberwolves come in 9-7 this month, and were up and down without Jimmy Butler for four games — he had soreness in his right knee. Wins against the Raptors last week and the Clippers were followed up by losses to the Blazers and Warriors. Now, they come into Toronto finishing a three games in four nights stretch, after beating Brooklyn and losing to the Hawks (yikes).

This is a big deal! Butler, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns are all in the NBA’s top 15 in minutes per game, and are victims of (or pieces in, depending on your fandom) the Tom Thibodeau machine. The starters play hard, they play a lot, and the bench doesn’t matter too much.

The Raptors, meanwhile, are in a 9-5 January but have struggled with consistency as well. There was the clutch offensive disaster against Utah, the matinee madness against Philadelphia, and... yes, the rebounding rapture against the Wolves just last week.

Wins against the Hawks and Lakers have tamed the pain a bit, but these are to be expected. Wins against good teams just feel better! Also, a shot at the top seed depends on putting some more four- and five-game win streaks together.

So yes, Toronto has a schedule in their favour against a Good Team™, and an opportunity to take advantage of them while they’re weary — Atlanta to Toronto for a back-to-back is no joke.

Let’s look at the game details and talk about what to watch for.

Where to Watch:

TSN4, 7:30 PM ET

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 - none

Minnesota - none

********

Emphasis on Rebounds

When the Raptors and Wolves met on January 20, the rebounding discrepancy was only 44-35. Not the worst Toronto has experienced this season, but still a strong differential in the game. Towns and Taj Gibson (18 boards) had their way with Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas underneath the basket, and the slight bench bigs of the Raptors fared no better.

While this, a physical frontcourt, is the hallmark of a Thibodeau team, the Raptors are going to need more on the glass (and in general) from Jonas Valanciunas. Lithuanian Lightning was nearly held to a line of “zero, zero, zero, zero...” after getting in foul trouble very early. Zero points and three rebounds won’t do it, and his games of 16/13, 28/14, and 13/10 since that Minnesota loss are reassuring.

The Timberwolves don’t have shooters that scream consistency outside of Butler. The Raptors need to do a better job of forcing them into one shot and getting the rebound. They also need to ensure Valanciunas is involved on the offensive end, and take advantage of a mismatch with Towns that will surely be exploited on the opposite side.

The Butler Effect

Toronto lucked out in last week’s game, as Butler was a late scratch with knee soreness that held him out for four games. Without repeating too much of what I wrote in the preview for that game, I will say this: Jimmy Butler is very good.

In the last three games against the Raptors, Butler has averaged 32.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 2.7 steals. He’s bottled up DeMar DeRozan effectively too, and that’ll be the marquee matchup tonight once again.

There’s also consensus that it’ll be DeRozan who guards Butler on the other end, which is something he could avoid when Butler was surrounded by, well, the Chicago Bulls roster.

Pressure is on DeRozan to perform on both ends. This is hopefully where fatigue becomes a factor — if Butler roundly wins this matchup, Toronto is in trouble.

Finish Strong

Last week, the game came down to a single possession with a minute to go. Let’s remind ourselves of how the Raptors’ clutch offense performed, after the defense gave up two threes from Wiggins and Towns:

0:55, Raptors down 3: Lowry misses a 15-footer
0:24, Raptors down 3: Lowry fouls Marcus Georges-Hunt (whom?)
0:22, Raptors down 5: DeRozan drives into a charge, drawn by Georges-Whomst.

That’s basically the ballgame.

NBA Stats defines “clutch” as statistics in the last five minutes of a fourth quarter or overtime where neither time is ahead by five or more points. The Raptors continue to look really bad in these situations. They’re 12-11 in games where clutch is a factor, including a bottom ten net rating of -9.1, and a bottom five effective field goal percentage of 42.3%. They’re right next to the Wizards in the latter two categories, which makes me queasy.

The end of games has to get better for the Raptors. It’s dogged this team all season, and remains a big question mark for a playoff team with high aspirations. The Timberwolves very well could present another close game for Toronto. Hopefully, we see something a little better than what’s been trending.