The battle of the battle-scarred may be waged in Dallas tonight as the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves arrive to take on the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavs have been without Dirk Nowitzki all season and for significant parts of the season without Chris Kaman, Roddy Beaubois and Shawn Marion. Dirk and the Matrix are still out and the Mavs fell Saturday night to the improving Charlotte Bobcats, bringing their record to 4-3. The Mavericks have only played one team prior to Minnesota with a winning record, a loss to the New York Knicks.
Meanwhile, the Timberwolves also began the season without their best players, All-NBA power forward Kevin Love and point guard Ricky Rubio. Since then, key bench scorer Chase Budinger tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee and will be out indefinitely after surgery. Brandon Roy, who retired from the league with bad knees two seasons ago, dressed but didn’t play Saturday due to knee soreness and point guard and former Mav J.J. Barea has missed the last two games with a left mid-foot sprain.
Yet similarly, the Timberwolves are 4-2. They have only beaten ONE team with a winning record (Brooklyn, now 3-2) but they are far more handicapped than Dallas.
The team’s leading scorer is Nikola Pekovic with 14.5 ppg, leading 4 players averaging in double figures plus 3 others averaging 8.5-9.3 ppg. The T-wolves don’t score a lot but they’re playing great defense. Andrei Kirilenko is averaging just under 12 ppg but his return to the NBA has brought defense and hustle to Minnesota. He typically plays power forward but is being used more as a small forward and even occasionally as a center to provide flexibility.
Most of all, Kirilenko has provide leadership to a more defensive-minded team. He and the newly reborn Brandon Roy are also doing a lot of ball handling as 2 of the 4 different players averaging over 4 assists per game, one of whom is J. J. Barea who won’t be playing in Dallas. Kirilenko is also leading the team in rebounding and blocks so he is literally doing it all.
So, like the Mavs, the T-wolves are missing key ingredients and yet have been performing well at least against so-so teams. The key to beating them will be playing fundamentally sound basketball and not making too many mistakes. Sound too generic? Look at the early season and lack of that has been the Mavericks undoing. With few exceptions, they’ve been beaten more by themselves than by a superior team.
The T-wolves have been playing good defense but the Mavericks have enough weapons to be able to choose alternatives whenever something isn’t working. When you have had success all years long with Chris Kaman and Brendan Wright inside as well as Darren Collison and O. J. Mayo outside and Vince Carter doing a little of both, you should be able to find a successful formula. That does require rebounding, especially on the offensive end, as well as not turning the ball over. Quite simply, if Mayo and Kaman alone have what has been an average night for them and the rest of the team doesn’t collapse, it should be a winning formula. The T-wolves don’t currently have any overwhelming individual weapons that must be shut down so again, solid team defense should prevail.
The game is at 7:30 as usual at the American Airlines Center. We’ll have a quick take after the game and a full analysis as usual on Tuesday here at the Smoking Cuban.