The Detroit Pistons have hopefully stabilized themselves after a four-game losing streak, albeit four road games out West, with a home win against the Eastern Conference-leading Cavs, because they now head back on the road and back against a surprisingly strong Western Conference opponent.
The Minnesota Timberwolves haven't been world beaters, but they've been shockingly competitive for a team with three 20-year-old players in their main rotation.
The Timberwolves are led by human pogo-stick swingman Andrew Wiggins, the purest of pass-first (and second, third, fourth) point guards in Ricky Rubio (arguably since Jason Kidd), and rookie PF/C Karl-Anthony Towns, who is on pace to have one of the great opening seasons to an NBA career in league history.
They're an exceedingly young team, and the fact that they don't completely suck is eyebrow raising and could bode well for their future prospects. A potential sneak peak of the 2018/2019 NBA Finals tonight.
Where: Target Center. Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 8:00 p.m. EST
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit
The Pistons offense finally broke out of its slump against the Cavs, on the backs of a determined Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson timing his drives and lobs well, and Ersan Ilyasova shooting lights out from 3.
Now the question is, can the other core supporting players, namely Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson and Anthony Tolliver start to pitch in?
The Pistons roster follows a simple formula on offense: Dre will rebound things. Check that one off your list. Reggie will pick and roll things. That's covered. Everyone else will catch and shoot mostly open shots. Or actually, better yet, move around without the ball, then catch the ball, then shoot. And make some of those shots, too.
So far it's been a work in progress. KCP and Morris are both below 30 percent on 3s. The design of the Pistons roster is compromised if those two don't start to shoot significantly better. They've brought defensive intensity and effort, but opposing NBA defenses are going to continue to grind the Pistons offense to dust if they can sag off multiple perimeter threats on every possession.
The Timberwolves are an interesting opponent because they go strongly against the current grain of 3-point heavy attacks, standing dead last in the league in 3-point attemtps, averaging 10 fewer per game than the Pistons (25 to 15).
They make up for the lack of outside shooting with aggressiveness and a team-wide ability to get to the foul line, sitting second in the league at free-throw attempts per game and foul shots to field goal attempts. And when the Timberwolves get to the line, they knock 'em down at 80 percent collectively (... yes I'm jealous).
Everything else is roughly middle of the pack, and the roster has a somewhat funny mix of veterans with Kevin's Garnett and Martin, Tayshaun Prince, even Andre Miller (!) getting minutes. Overall, however, they fit the profile of an aggressive, young team: they're looking to attack the basket and finish at the rim or draw a foul.
Like the rest of the league, the Pistons will probably dare Rubio to shoot and stay at home against everyone else. They should be able to manage, as the Pistons defensive breakdowns have mostly come against teams that can light them up with jump shooters, not really Minnesota's strong suit. After that, the big key to winning this game and a lot more games this season is annoyingly simple: the Pistons shooters need to start hitting shots.
Key Match-Up to Watch
Andre Drummond vs. Karl-Anthony Towns
These could be the two best centers in the NBA for the next decade.
Towns has come out of the gates on fire, showing an advanced offensive game and great touch (90 percent on free throws so far). And he's already one of the better shot-blockers in the league.
Dre obviously doesn't need any introduction. He's bigger, stronger and more explosive. Towns' game is based more on a high skill level and excellent coordination. The clash of styles should be fun.
If Dre is going to claim the throne of best in the league at his position for the foreseeable future he's gotta show a new potential rival who's boss.
Kevin Garnett? How do we feel after all these years?