Opponent: Minnesota Timberwolves
Time: 7:30 PM
Location: Barclays Center
Watch: YES Network
As voters nationwide wait on lines even longer than the ones winding outside of the Barclays Center on game day, the Brooklyn Nets welcome the upstart Minnesota Timberwolves to town.
Buoyed by a young core that includes Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the super-star-in-waiting Karl Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves were quickly ticketed as a favorite to take the next step and make the playoffs in a crowded Western Conference. Despite a slow start — the Wolves come into this contest at just 1-4 — there are indications that the pundits might not have made the wrong predictions after all. According to Basketball Reference, the team’s offensive rating of 106.8 sits just outside the top-10, and they sport a middle of the road defense that will surely improve under head coach Tom Thibodeau’s watch.
Tonight’s matchup is sure to be a tricky one for the Nets. Of course, Towns gives every team in the league fits, but his inside-out game is one that has traditionally given the Nets’ slow-footed rotation of big men some major problems. And as the Nets try to gut through a stretch without two of its primary ball handlers available, the Wolves will start Dunn in place of the injured Ricky Rubio. The Spaniard is no slouch on the defensive end, but Dunn represents an on-the-ball pitbull bred specifically for the purpose of playing in Thibodeau’s strong-side isolation zone defense.
The Nets’ new motion offense will be critical to any success and, with such a young opponent, the off-ball screens and constant movement might be enough to coax more open shots than usual. But still, the Nets sorely miss Jeremy Lin already and may end up missing him even more than usual with the constant on-ball pressure the hyper-athletic Timberwolves promise to bring.
3 Things to Watch for in Nets-Timberwolves:
1. Can Isaiah Whitehead and Sean Kilpatrick continue to manage the point guard position?
Isaiah Whitehead and Sean Kilpatrick played better than expected against the Charlotte Hornets as they were hurled into the deep end after consecutive injuries to Greivis Vasquez and the aforementioned Lin. Dunn is an inside-your-jersey defender and he’ll work to frustrate two guards that are unaccustomed to bringing the ball up court.
How the tandem responds to the pressure will be a tell-tale sign of the night to come.
2. How will the Nets handle Minnesota’s rotation of young, athletic big men?
Karl-Anthony Town isn’t the Nets’ only problem, unfortunately. Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad, and Nemanja Bjelica possess a combination of athleticism, playmaking, and shooting that should really test the Nets’ big men defensively on the perimeter.
Might Trevor Booker draw the assignment on Towns? Will the Nets try to dial back their aggressive scheme? Or will the Nets hope that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson continues to clean up some of the team’s defensive miscues as he did in Charlotte? Keep in mind, Hollis-Jefferson will also have his hands full with Wiggins, a former no. 1 overall pick, who comes into the game averaging 20.6 points per game, second only to Towns’ mark of 22.4.
3. Can Bojan Bogdanovic bounce back?
In Lin’s absence, several Nets will be called upon to pick up the slack offensively, but perhaps none more than Bojan Bogdanovic. The Croatian is scoring a robust 15.2 points per game this season, but struggled in his first full game without Lin as he was just 4-17 from the floor and sported an ugly -15 while he was on the court.
On defense, he’ll be facing off against Zach LaVine, a hyper-athletic guard that’s shooting a scorching 45% beyond the arc — with more than six attempts a game too! — to start the season. This matchup could be a decisive one if the Nets aren’t sharp and they’ll need a more efficient Bogdanovic to get through what promises to be a hard-fought contest.