Coming off two double-digit victories in Utah and Denver, the Minnesota Timberwolves head to the Motor City to start their two-game series against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday Night at 7:00 PM ET. The stories of these two teams have been extremely different throughout the early parts of the season, with the Wolves battling to make the playoffs for the first time since 2018 and the Pistons hoping to develop young talent while contending for a top spot in the summer lottery.
The Timberwolves have won six out of their last ten games and are only two games behind the Denver Nuggets for the sixth seed in the Western Conference, which would allow them to escape the play-in picture. Minnesota currently holds the tiebreaker against Denver, making the importance of at least tying them in record even greater.
For the Pistons, things have certainly been shaky this season. They are tied with the Orlando Magic for the lowest win total in the NBA and have the second-worst record overall. However, things have not been all bad. In the midst of yet again another poor season record-wise, Detroit has found their franchise cornerstone in Cade Cunningham, the 1st pick from the 2021 NBA Draft. Cunningham took home the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors for the month of January, averaging 17.3 points per game, 5.6 assists per game, and 4.2 rebounds per game. In the Pistons’ most recent win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have a top 3 defense in the NBA this season, Cunningham made his impact felt with a 19 point triple-double despite having a relatively poor shooting night from the field.
How the Timberwolves can win:
Karl Anthony Towns impressive scoring and passing highlights from last night's win vs Jokic and the Nuggets
Ended the game with these stats in 28 mins:
▫️ 24 Points
▫️ 10 Rebounds
▫️ 7 Assists (1 Turnover)
▫️ 2 Steals
▫️ 1 Block
▫️ 67/33/88 splits
▫️ 77% TS pic.twitter.com/HGqyO7kBIC
— Karan (@karanjn2) February 2, 2022
The Timberwolves come into this game as a massive favorite, despite the questionable status of D’Angelo Russell, Patrick Beverley, and Josh Okogie.
The formula for the Timberwolves’ success starts at the top with their best player, Karl-Anthony Towns. The Wolves offense is at their best when KAT is able to create opportunities for others through a variety of different offensive sets, whether it’s him making short roll passes after setting a screen for the primarily ball-handler and receiving the initial pass, causing the defense to have to send extra help his way, or using his interior dominance to draw double teams and find open teammates or finish around the rim. Given the fact that KAT is so versatile offensively and Detroit has no answer to stop him, the glaring mismatch he poses shifts the scales drastically in favor of Minnesota.
The dominance of Towns himself might be too overwhelming for Detroit to handle, and even if they devote all their resources to stopping Towns, they need to find a way to attempt to stop rising star Anthony Edwards. Edwards is so explosive off the dribble especially when he is being guarded one on one and is near impossible to contain when driving downhill. Not only is Edwards a terror to stop when he is barreling towards the rim, but he is also developing into one of the league’s best shooters in the league.
Anthony Edwards is beginning to master the art of driving.
As the season has progressed, Ant has become a deadlier driver w/o needing to increase volume.
— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) January 29, 2022
In October, Edwards shot a pedestrian 31.4% from three-point range. In November, he shot a much improved 35.3% from three-point range. In December, he shot an elite 40.6% from three on 8.6 attempts per game. He saw a slight regression in January, shooting 37.6% from three as his volume jumped to 9.4 attempts a game from beyond the arc, but the point stands that he continues to improve in that aspect of his game, which is scary for the rest of the NBA.
All it takes for the Timberwolves to win is for one of Edwards or Towns to have a big night. If they both do, it’s a wrap for most of the opponents they face.
How can the Pistons win:
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) February 2, 2022
For the Pistons to pull off a massive upset win at home against the ascending Timberwolves, it is going to take a herculean effort. Despite having Jerami Grant back, who is one of the two best players on their roster, they might be without Hercules himself, in Cade Cunningham.
Assuming that Cunningham’s hip is feeling better and he is ready to suit up, they will need everything they can get out of him. In his last 15 games, Cunningham has been a red hot pull-up jump shooter, shooting 53.3% on 30 three-point attempts in which he is pulling up for the shot. In order for the Pistons to have a chance against the Timberwolves, who don’t waste many opportunities offensively and give opposing offenses fits when they’re engaged on defense, Cunningham will need to have a red hot shooting night which he’s capable of having.
Cade Cunningham was locked in from deep, he knocked down 6 three-pointers on the way to setting a new career high in points! 😎@CadeCunningham_: 34 PTS | 8 REB | 8 AST | 2 STL | 4 BLK pic.twitter.com/mrVARatHtY
— NBA Draft (@NBADraft) January 26, 2022
On top of this, the other Pistons surrounding Cunningham will need to capitalize on the advantages he creates for them offensively through his passing. This young Pistons team is prone to making many mistakes and not playing very well on a night-to-night basis, and their record and advanced metrics are very indicative of that. However, they do have a chance to upset the Timberwolves tonight in front of their home crowd, if Cunningham and the supporting pieces around him come out hot.
The Spread via FanDuel:
Minnesota Timberwolves -7.5, (-310) Money Line
Detroit Pistons +7.5, (+245) Money Line
Final Prediction: Minnesota Timberwolves 121, Detroit Pistons 109