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Wizards vs. Timberwolves game preview: Heat check

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Washington (12-13) at Minnesota (13-15)

December 27, 2013 at 8:00 PM
Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
TV: CSN Washington
Radio: 106.7FM The Fan

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Projected starting lineups:

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C- Marcin Gortat
PF- Trevor Booker
SF- Trevor Ariza
SG- Bradley Beal
PG- John Wall

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C– Nikola Pekovic
PF- Kevin Love
SF- Corey Brewer
SG- Kevin Martin
PG- Ricky Rubio

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Key matchup:

John Wall v. Ricky Rubio

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John Wall is continuing to grow as a player, while Rubio hasn’t exactly gotten to the next level in his game yet. Rubio makes a few great passes every game but teams don’t really care to press him because he can’t consistently make any outside shots. He’s extremely tentative when he gets a chance to shoot and it’s detrimental to the Timberwolves offense at times. Rubio is actually a somewhat underrated defender. He has the foot speed to hold his own and can be quite pesky on the ball. Obviously, he is still no match for John’s speed in the open court. We saw last time that Wall had Rubio’s number as he easily got by him on dribble-drives. Last time they played, Wall racked up 16 assists with only one turnover. Wall has also scored 20 or more points in his last four games, which is a career first for him.

Spotlight:

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Kevin Love. Love is coming off of a monster 45 point, 19 rebound game against the Clippers on Sunday. The Timberwolves still lost that game, and you can bet that Love’s last game against the Wizards in a loss is still stuck with him. Love had a very dominant first half in helping the Timberwolves build a large lead. Eventually, the Wizards mounted a comeback to take the contest, one of the few Wizards marquee wins this year. The Timberwolves faltered down the stretch but there was still no logical explanation as to why the Wolves went away from their franchise player after he seemingly killed the Wizards from downtown early in the contest.

There isn’t much of a need to explain why Love is so good. You can watch him for a few minutes and see it all in a few sequences. He is an elite rebounder, elite passer for his position, and has the range of a shooting guard. One of his many dominant performances have to click for him in terms of leading the Timberwolves to a win, and the Wizards are always a prime target for any sort of “firsts.”

The X-factor:

Bench play. Kevin Seraphin has scored in double figures in three of the last four Wizards games coming off of the bench. They will need the usual energy of Vesely along with someone to spell John Wall to increase their chances of winning this game. The Timberwolves are 4th in the league in points per game, and first in shots attempted. Eventually the Wizards will have to take guys like Beal and Wall out and it will up to the bench to hold serve. If Webster can give his more recent type of contribution, and Nene can contribute in limited minutes, the Wizards should be able to hold a lead or keep pace with the Wolves in this one. We are still waiting for Otto Porter to have his breakout game.

3-point shooting. We know Love can hit them. Martell hit five of them last game. Ariza can always go off from downtown. Corey Brewer can get rolling from behind the arc. Both teams will come out aggressive and full of energy which could mean a lot of open looks. Whoever can take advantage early will likely decide how this game is played in the 2nd half.

What happened last time they played?

The Timberwolves led by as much as 16, and 12 points at the half. The Wizards came back in the 2nd half to win the game by four at the Verizon Center. John Wall had 16 assists and only one turnover as the Timberwolves faltered by letting the Wizards offense heat up late. When the Timberwolves don’t go through Love, their offense sputters and that is exactly what happened in the 2nd half.

Who’s hurt?

Ronny Turiaf and Chase Budinger remain out for the Timberwolves. Al Harrington and Glen Rice remain out for the Wizards.

Outlook:

Did the long break come at a bad time for the Wizards? In their last three games, The Wizards are averaging 107 ppg on a 47.8% clip. They’ve hit 31 of the 59 three’s they’ve attempted. Obviously, rest is always imperative – but the Wizards were on fire. Maybe the holiday did come at a good time. After such an up and down season, the Wizards deserved to have a holiday week coming off of a few great performances.

In being apart from each other coming off of a positive note, this could help build more team chemistry. The Wizards are peaking at a good time now that Beal is back, and they have to make sure they don’t fall into the same slump as they did after they were called “the third seed in the Eastern Conference.”

Minnesota is a solid team with an offensive punch, but they are one of the worst teams in the league in terms of their field goal percentage. If the Wizards can focus on defense and limit second-chance opportunities, they should be able to keep this game close until the inevitable Beal and Webster offensive explosion. Wall didn’t shoot well last time, but he racked up dimes with ease. Beal chipped in 25, easily exploiting the defensively weak Kevin Martin. Webster contributed 17 points and nine rebounds. Ariza is coming off of a 27-point performance in his most recent contest. John Wall is adding more fuel to the fire of who the best PG in the Eastern Conference is.

These guys will have an easier time on defense. Gortat and Booker will have to put their big boy pants on as they go up against two guys that have been dominating recently. Pekovic is averaging 29 and 12 in his last three contests, and we already discussed Kevin Love’s gargantuan stat-lines as of late. If Gortat and Booker can at least limit the Timberwolves front-court, the Wizards should distance themselves late in the game. Did the holiday layoff cool the Wizards down or will they come out on fire again? We’ll find out tonight. Wizards basketball is back.

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