Orlando at Minnesota
Time: 7 PM CT, NBA League Pass
Spread: MIN -7
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Orlando Magic are in a free fall. As losers of its past five contests, the Magic now travel to face the Minnesota Timberwolves at 7 PM (CT) on NBA League Pass. NBA oddsmakers list the Wolves as 7-point favorites in the game, which has an over/under set at 216.5 points.
The Magic, for its part, have not played well of late. A 125-85 loss to the Utah Jazz at the Amway Center rings paramount of those struggles, but former Magic man Victor Oladipo also had a huge game in Orlando’s most recent 105-97 fall to the Indiana Pacers. The Magic have carved its new identity based on the transcendence of Aaron Gordon and hot shooting of Evan Fournier, but lost in the rebuild is the story of just how good Oladipo has been as an Indiana Pacer. The former No.2 overall pick of the Magic has thrived as the Pacers’ primary scoring option and is having a career year, while the Pacers have surprised. Orlando, too, surprised, but it has now fallen below .500 as a result of the losing streak and some awfully bad offense.
Can Orlando get back on track against the T-Wolves? Minnesota is 10-7 this season and 5-2 at home, but its defense has lingered near the bottom of playoff contending teams at 107.6 points per game surrendered. The Wolves score 107.2, giving it a negative differential of -0.5, despite its winning record. Minnesota has dropped its past two contests to the hot Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets. The Wolves prior to that had won three-straight over Phoenix, Utah and San Antonio.
Minnesota has got top-notch production from third-year center Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns is leading the team at 20.6 points per game to go with his 11.4 boards, 1.4 assists and 1.53 blocks per game with a team-high PER of 23.9. Second and third options Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler contribute 18.8 and 16.3 points per game respectively, though Minnesota is likely looking for more from both. The Wolves have used Taj Gibson heavily at the 4-spot, leading to the decline of the once-promising Gorgui Dieng. Dieng has seen just 15 minutes per game and is only of fringe relevance now, while Gibson’s playoff experience, leadership and defense make him a valuable cog for head coach Tom Thibodeau, who is still trying to elicit more defense from his young team.
The Wolves gained the leadership it sorely lacked by adding Butler and Gibson. For as much as Kevin Garnett was part-coach, his retirement left the young Wolves largely without guidance last season. Several other Wolves have seen role reductions, but most glaring is that of former Sixth Man Shabazz Muhammed. Once a viable bench scorer, Muhammed is seeing just 13 minutes per game and averaging only 4.3 points per contest. The Wolves seemingly have some pieces that it must coax greater production from, not the least of which is new point guard Jeff Teague. Teauge is averaging just 13.5 points per game on 41.3 percent shooting, though he does rank No. 2 on Minnesota in three-point percentage at 40.0. Nemaja Bjelica has been deadly accurate at 53.8 percent, but he attempts just 2.3 per game. Perhaps Minnesota needs to grant the unique forward some additional playing time. It is still early in the season and tinkering with rotations is bound to happen, but the biggest improvements from Minnesota still to come are holistic team improvements. Communication still needs to improve on defense, and the T-Wolves have to do a better job of protecting the rim, and that includes Towns. Towns ideally needs to block over two shots per game, and 1.53 is pretty paltry for his athletic gifts and defensive instincts.