The Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves square off tonight at 8:00 P.M. EST. Here's three things to watch:
1) Abusing the inside. Along with their other four injuries, the Timberwolves are without both star power forward Kevin Love (hand surgery) and human juggernaut and world traveler Nikola Pekovic. If you remember the last matchup between these two teams, Pekovic was a major reason the Nets allowed a 22-point lead to fall apart. Expect to see Derrick Williams and... maybe Greg Stiemsma? in their place.
No matter who's starting for Brooklyn tonight, Brook Lopez has a matchup he should destroy, and the Reggie Evans/Kris Humphries combination should grab about 30 rebounds. If all goes according to plan, we should see a lot of Lopez in pick-and-roll situations and post-ups on Stiemsma, who outside of blocking shots has his share of defensive struggles.
2) Manned vs. Undermanned. As mentioned above, the Timberwolves are without six players, three of whom were starters at the beginning of the season. Along with Pekovic and Love, the Timberwolves are without Brandon Roy, Malcolm Lee, Chase Budinger, and Alexey Shved. That's six players with 86 combined starts this season for Minnesota. The Nets released Damion James back to the D-League, as well as sending rookies Tyshawn Taylor and Tornike Shengelia to the Springfield Armor, so they'll only suit 12 tonight. But: at least all 12 are healthy. The Nets have significant depth even when they're missing players; at 12 strong, they should be able to take advantage and give their best players rest when Minnesota may struggle.
3) Mr. Ricky Rubio. Ricky Rubio is a magician. He flips the court sideways and sees angles that don't exist. Ricky Rubio makes Jerry Stackhouse's magic tricks look like Gob's illusions from Arrested Development. In the open floor, Rubio has an unbelievable ability to set up teammates for looks that nobody else on the court can imagine. His numbers have been pedestrian in his short time on the floor this season, but Rubio's one of the most fun players to watch in the league regardless.
This is the last time the Nets play the Timberwolves this season, so enjoy it. On this Timberwolves team, Rubio is easily the bright spot on the floor. After missing the beginning of the season has he recovered from surgery, Rubio has started in the last three games and looks set to start again.
Even as a Nets fan, I'm excited as much as anything else to see Ricky Rubio cook. I just hope he does it in a loss.