The Brooklyn Nets (25-16) will look to pick up another 1/2 game on the Manhattan Knicks Wednesday night when they travel up north to face the struggling and injured Minnesota Timberwolves (17-21). Brooklyn has been the hottest team in the NBA recently and has only lost once in the month of January. They are also coming off of a very important and exciting win over the Knicks. The Timberwolves have been going in the opposite direction. This month they are only 3-8 and have lost 6 of their past 7 games. Their struggles began when Kevin Love injured his hand again at the beginning of the month and the team has now fallen to last place in the northwest division and out of the playoff picture in the western conference.
When Nets fans think of the Timberwolves, an early season collapse under Avery Johnson comes to mind. In only the second game of the season, Brooklyn hosted Minnesota and jumped out to a 62-47 lead at halftime. The third quarter was also ok and Brooklyn retained an 11-point lead heading into the fourth quarter where everything that could have went wrong, went wrong. The Nets were outscored 32-10 in that quarter and went on to suffer one of their most embarrassing losses of the year. However, that game is far behind Brooklyn now and that game is not fresh in either team’s mind. Still, the Nets may want some revenge tonight.
Injuries: Brooklyn has been healthy in terms of injuries for most of the year and have no significant injuries at this time. Minnesota, on the other hand, has been one of the unluckiest teams in the NBA this year. I will list their current injuries in order from least important to most important to the team: Malcolm Lee, Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved, Brandon Roy, Nikola Pekovic, and Kevin Love. Because of all the injuries, this team has a couple of D-League call-ups that are getting significant playing time. In fact, anybody who is healthy will get playing time on this team.
Deron Williams vs. Luke Ridnour. Advantage: Williams
Ridnour has been one of the few players who has not been injured this year for Minnesota. He is averaging 12 points and 4 assists this year, not bad, but below average for a starting point guard. J.J. Barea will also get time at point guard for Minnesota and he is averaging 11 points and 5 assists. Deron Williams will have a size and quickness advantage against both these players and should have a pretty good game.
Joe Johnson vs. Ricky Rubio. Advantage: Johnson
After a breakout rookie season last year, Ricky Rubio has been nothing short of a disappointment this season. He has only played in 13 games due to injuries and when he has played he has not been impressive. He is only averaging 4 points and 5 assists this year and has yet to reach double figures in either category, something he did frequently last season. Joe Johnson will also have a size and experience advantage tonight. Joe has been playing pretty excellent basketball in January, leading some to consider him the MVP of the Nets, especially after his game on Monday against the Knicks. Expect him to score around 20 again tonight.
Gerald Wallace vs. Andrei Kirilenko. Advantage: Kirilenko
Kirilenko has probably been the MVP this year for the Timberwolves and is one of the reasons why this team has not completely fallen apart. He is averaging 14 points (his most since 2006!), 7 rebounds, and 3 assists this year and has been Minnesota’s most consistent player. I expect Kirilenko to have a very good game against the Nets as he will be trying to impress Mikhail Prokhorov. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him approach a triple-double. Gerald Wallace hasn’t played great since returning from his rib injury but he will probably have to guard Kirilenko tonight.
Reggie Evans vs. Derrick Williams. Advantage: Evans
After being selected with the second pick in the 2011 draft, Derrick Williams has definitely not lived up to expectations. He is only averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds this year and hasn’t improved much from last season. He has been forced into the starting lineup with all the injuries Minnesota has suffered recently. Reggie Evans will not allow him to get many rebounds tonight. Expect Reggie to have a very strong rebounding game against the undersized Timberwolves.
Brook Lopez vs. Greg Stiemsma. Advantage: Lopez
Another player forced into Minnesota’s starting lineup is Greg Stiemsma, a second year undrafted player from Wisconsin. Stiemsma is only averaging 3 points and 2 rebounds in 12 minutes per game this season. However, he is also averaging over 1 block per game, so he is somewhat of a defensive presence. Backing him up will be D-League call-up Chris Johnson, who has played 43 uneventful games in his 3-year NBA career. Johnson has only appeared in 2 NBA games this year. Lopez should have no excuse for not having a great game tonight. I expect him to have at least 20 points and 10 rebounds and hopefully more.
Prediction: Nets 108, Timberwolves 94.
This is a game that the Nets need to and will win. Minnesota is severely short-handed and doesn’t have nearly the talent that Brooklyn has. The Nets are the hottest team in the NBA right now and even though it may be below 0 degrees in Minnesota, the Timberwolves will be unable to cool Brooklyn off.