With the Spurs tipping off the 2017 NBA season in a matter of hours against the Minnesota Timberwolves, I turned to my friend David Pan of Howlin T-Wolf to get a closer look at tonight’s matchup.
1. In the past, an opening night game against the Timberwolves might be one that wouldn’t draw too much excitement. With all the offseason changes, what are you looking forward to the most?
The new uniforms, the new players—the new era! There’s a lot at stake for the Timberwolves this year. Fans like myself expect the team to make the playoffs, nothing less. This is a realistic expectation because the Timberwolves acquired players during the offseason that could close games in the second half.
2. The biggest offseason addition is obviously Jimmy Butler. How much does he change the organization, not only due to his ability on offense and defense, but the change in team culture with him leading the charge?
Jimmy Butler brings a winning attitude to the clubhouse. He’s a leader, not afraid to call players out when needed. He’s also a hard-worker, a mentor and more importantly, a game changer on the court. Jimmy Butler is the one player Thibs was dying to acquire, and Thibs managed to pull it off! It was an amazing moment for everyone in the Timberwolves community.
3. The Wolves got off to a rough start last season, and don’t have an easy early schedule. Even considering the Spurs will be without Leonard and Parker, how important is starting off with a win over the Spurs?
It would be nice to win the first game, but listen: the Spurs are the Spurs. The Spurs take advantage of teams who play sloppy defense. The Spurs take advantage of the spacing in the interior, drilling the baseline jumpers or floating it in. Oh, and don’t forget the long-range shots from beyond the arc. The Spurs have a lot of weapons in their arsenals.
Regardless of Kawhi sitting out, the win against the Spurs will come down to how the Timberwolves play defense in the second half.
4. With Thibodeau starting his second year, and with the additions of some of his former Bulls players joining Towns, will we see a big difference defensively right away or is it something that will take more time?
No, the Timberwolves defense will not take a quantum leap against the Spurs. This is the first game, the first matchup in the regular season where Thibs will have to adjust to different screens and different lineups. The sample size will be too small for us to judge the Timberwolves defense. Unless Thibs surprises us again like he did this offseason with the Jimmy Butler trade.
5. With the injuries, Towns vs. Aldridge will likely be a key matchup. How do you see that one playing out, and are there any other matchups we should keep an eye on?
I see Towns playing a better game against Aldridge. Towns has noticeably made more threes after the second half of last year, and he has continued sinking those corner shots in the preseason. Towns also attacks the basket, (slam) dunks, and has an underrated jumper. Pay attention to Towns, Spurs fans. He’s the player everyone wants to build a franchise around.
I can’t think of any other intriguing matchups right now—I got too excited thinking about Towns—but another player Spurs fans should pay attention to is Jeff Teague. He doesn’t look like the player who signed for 50+ mil with a third-year player option, but his signing was equally significant. Thibs is staking his reputation on Teague as his PG, and so far, Teague has meshed well with the offense.
6. What are your expectations and prediction for tonight’s game?
I think the Spurs will win this game by a close margin. Not because the Timberwolves played a bad game, but because the Spurs find a way to score regardless of who’s out of the lineup. The Timberwolves defense will play well, but I see some growing pains that the Spurs will exploit. Maybe I’m having flashbacks of last season when they got off to a slow start, but we shall see tomorrow night!