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Pistons vs. Timberwolves preview: NBA’s worst faces one of NBA’s best

What could possibly go wrong in this matchup of two juggernauts at their respective craft, losing and defense.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Detroit Pistons Allison Farrand-USA TODAY Sports

In case you were busy doing other things on MLK Day like you should have been, the Pistons played a game against the Washington Wizards and actually won. And it wasn’t just a win that they squeaked out by the skin of their teeth, but it was a double digit win!

Now, the Wizards are nearly as bad as the Pistons, so it is tough to take much of anything away from that game, but when you are on pace for the worst record in NBA history, you have to take any small victory.

The Pistons are not as lucky today as they will face the Minnesota Timberwolves, who currently sit atop the Western Conference, a surprising development after a bit of a stumble last season after acquiring Rudy Gobert. The Pistons struggle to take care of the ball and the Timberwolves thrive on the defensive end, so what could possibly go wrong in this one?

Game Vitals

Where: Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, MI
When: Wednesday, January 17 at 7 pm EST
Watch: Bally Sports Detroit
Odds: TWolves (-11.5)

Analysis

Sometimes teams come out of nowhere in the NBA and get off to a hot start only to fall off as the season goes on. For many people, that could have been the view of the Minnesota Timberwolves early on this season, but as we approach the halfway point of the season and they continue to stand on top of the Western Conference, there is no way you can make that argument anymore. The Timberwolves are good and legitimate Championship Contenders.

They sport the number 1 defense in the NBA in terms of Defensive Rating (108.4), the 2nd best team, Boston, sits at 110.6. And if Defensive Rating isn’t your thing, they also lead the league in Opponent Points Per Game at 107.3. The Miami Heat are 2nd at 110.6 points per game. So the Timberwolves are not just elite defensively, but significantly better than the rest of the league.

To top it all off, they have a budding Superstar in Anthony Edwards and really solid players around him like Karl Anthony-Towns, Jaden McDaniels, and Rudy Gobert.

The Timberwolves actually play how the Pistons want to, with two big guys in the front court, except they can pull it off because Gobert is an elite defender at the center position and Karly Anthony-Towns is one of the most skilled big men to play in the NBA. Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren are not that and neither one probably reaches either player’s level on offense in the case of Stewart or defense in the case of Duren.

The Timberwolves went all-in on Rudy Gobert during the 2022 offseason, surrendering multiple future 1st round picks and a few of their bench players. After finishing last season in the 8th spot in the West, it appeared like that trade was going to be a huge backfire that would set the team back. But, Gobert is back to his Defensive Player of the Year self and the players around him have gotten better defensively to form a formidable defensive team.

The offensive engine is stirred by Anthony Edwards, who averages 26 points, 4,9 assists, and 5.4 rebounds on 46/39/85 shooting splits. Nobody in the NBA has been able to defend him, but the Pistons in particular, have nobody that can defend him, so it could be a very long night.

Karl Anthony-Towns is not as much of a focal point on offense, but is still a huge part of carrying the offensive load for the Timberwolves. He enters this contest averaging 21.7 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists while shooting 51% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc. In fact, he is sitting at 89.3% from the Free Throw line, so he is very close from shooting 50/40/90 from the field.

I have kind of already alluded to it, but a team like the Timberwolves is a recipe for disaster for the Pistons. They are a team that struggles with turnovers when they are defended tough, and they will be defended tough all night by the Timberwolves. And without Cade Cunningham’s ability to make defenses pay, they are going to once again rely on Alec Burks hitting shots off the bench and hopefully the return of Bojan Bogdanovic.

Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren were huge in the win over the Wizards, so they will have to be at their best to have any chance of staying in this game. They were also helped by a bounce-back game by Ausar Thompson, who looked more engaged on both ends, probably because he knew there was guaranteed playing time for him because of the Pistons being short-handed.

New acquisitions Danilo Gallinari and Mike Muscala are both listed as questionable due to trade pending. The trade has been officially announced, but there is still going to be an acclimation process for both of them. If neither player plays, we are looking at a very similar rotation to the one that beat the Wizards on Monday, except with Bogdanovic, who is listed as probable.

The Pistons will need all the help they can get to win this game.

Lineups

Detroit Pistons (4-36): Killian Hayes, Jaden Ivey, Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Stewart, Jalen Duren

Minnesota Timberwolves (28-11): Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert

Question of the Day

Will the Pistons “big” frontcourt ever come close to being as good as Gobert and Towns?