Minnesota Timberwolves (6-15) vs Toronto Raptors (14-7)
7pm ET on TNT
After losing to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday 105-91, the Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in the 2-8 death spiral that has them teetering above only the Mavs in the West. Minnesota managed to jump out to a 15-5 lead to open the game, and actually stayed in front of the Spurs until early in the 3rd quarter, when Nicolas Laprovittola 3-pointer tied it at 48-48. Three lead changes later, however, the Spurs went up for good 54-53 on a pair of Kawhi Leonard free throws for 2 of his game-high 35, and they just kept rolling. Zach LaVine led the T’wolves with 25 points, and Karl-Anthony Towns had a double-double with 11-14 – though he made just 3 of 16 from the floor. Minnesota’s talented troika of 21-year-olds – LaVine, Towns, and Andrew Wiggins, each continue to average 20+ points per game, but there’s a team-wide lack of defense that has allowed opponents too many open looks leading to a 47.1 shooting percentage, third-highest in the NBA.
With a chance to take the top spot in the East on Monday, the Toronto Raptors let it slip away, losing 116-112 loss to the Cavaliers. DeMar DeRozan showed up, scoring 31 on 12-of-23 shooting, with 4 boards, 5 assists, and 3 steals, while Kyle Lowry worked the point for 24 points and 9 assists, but it was nearly enough to stem the tide of LeBron James (34-8-7), Kevin Love (28-14), and Kyrie Irving (24-2-7), even on a night when JR Smith had to leave the game in the 1st quarter with a knee injury. Despite the loss, the Raptors are still #2 in the East, and their +8.1 point differential is the third-best in the league.
San Antonio Spurs (18-4) vs Chicago Bulls (11-10)
9:30pm ET on TNT
Year 1 of the Kawhi Leonard Era is going well, thus far, their latest victory coming against the T’wolves, with Leonard scoring a game-high 35 on 11-of-15 shooting. The Spurs as a team were knocking down shots all night, making 52.7% of their field goal attempts, including 11 of 24 3-pointers. Patty Mills was big off the bench, with 15-4-5 in just 26:55. But LaMarcus Aldridge’s points are down, as he’s gone from hitting 51.3% to just 47.3% of his, and his rebounds are down from 8.5 per game to 6.6 per game, despite playing 2.4 more minutes – could be a hiccup, could be a problem, it’s too early to tell, but the Spurs will need him to step up at some point.
Since notching a huge win over the Cavs last week, the Bulls have dropped three straight, most recently on Tuesday against the Pistons 102-91. After trailing throughout the first half, there were nine lead changes in the 3rd quarter, before Nikola Mirotic’s 27-footer put Chicago up 75-71 early in the 4th. But the glory was short lived, as the Pistons responded with a 12-0 run – with 6 points coming from Aron Baynes – to take control of the game. Jimmy Butler once again led the Bulls with 32 points, but shot 0-of-4 from downtown, as the team made just 2 of 15 3’s. In the midst of this skid the Bulls had to play one game without mercurial point guard Rajon Rondo, who was suspended following a verbal altercation with an assistant coach. Rondo, who has since returned to the fold, conceded that he “could have handled the situation better”. You’ll recall the league gave Rondo an unpaid vacation last season, after calling referee Bill Kennedy a homophobic slur – Rondo could maybe use some sensitivity and anger-management training.
Watch the T’wolves vs Raptors at 7pm ET, followed by the Spurs vs Bulls at 10:30pm ET on TNT by subscribing to Sling