Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves (14-13) @ Utah Jazz (15-17)

The Jazz are 6-13 away from the confines of the Delta Center EnergySolutions Arena. That could have played a part in their recent troubles, as they’ve lost 7 of their last 9 games and 6 of them have been on the road. The only problem is that both of those wins were in Brooklyn and Orlando, so make of that what you will — they Wolves play Utah in Utah tonight.

Jazz probable starting lineup:

PG Jamaal Tinsley

SG Randy Foye

SF Marvin Williams

PF Paul Millsap

C Al Jefferson

This isn’t Jerry Sloan’s classic Utah team. Tyrone Corbin’s Jazz are 23rd in points allowed and 25th in defensive efficiency.

They do rebound (14th in total, 12th in rate) and score (10th in both points per game and 100 possessions) well, but like most of the league, they’ve been a little beat up.

New to Utah this year, the Williams boys, Marvin and Mo, have been in and out of the lineup. Mo has been out since injuring his thumb four games ago, and Marvin will likely return to face the Wolves after sitting out the Jazz loss to the Clippers on Sunday with a sore knee.

The combination of injury woes and recent struggles would seem to pave the way for Utah’s youth movement to take hold. Jefferson is having a classic Big Al year, averaging 18 points, 10 rebounds, and a block on 48% shooting. He and Millsap (14 and 8, with almost a block and steal a game, 47% fg) would seem lame ducks, waiting to give way in trades to bolster the frontline of the future, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and swingman Gordon Hayward with some young backcourt prospects.

With Mo Williams’ return date from his thumb injury still without a target, this season’s quick fixes (Mo, Marvin, Foye) being a bit long in tooth, the youth movement could get big minutes this Spring.

Favorite blog-message-board-speculative-trade target, Jeremy Evans has played double-digit minutes just twice this season and even then, only when Marvin Williams was knocked out of the lineup — literally concussed — against Toronto (12/7). One wonders about Evans’ availability and potential to be included in a possible three team trade. Ditto for Alec Burks, who has seen some time at guard since Mo Williams went down.

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Luke Ridnour

SG Alexey Shved

SF Andrei Kirilenko

PF Kevin Love

C Nikola Pekovic

Against Phoenix, Pek rumbled down the lane (for 28 points) and Kirilenko cut baseline (making 10 of 13 shots) while Love grabbed every rebound in sight (well, almost, he had 18) and Shved distributed with aplomb (10 assists on the night) while Ridnour struggled quietly (2-7, 4 assists in 31 minutes) and they all logged heavy minutes — the Wolves squeaked by a hapless Suns squad on its way to its 6th straight loss. They’ll need more help against the Utah Jazz.

Minnesota is a game and a half ahead of Utah and half a game out of the 8th spot in the Western Conference Playoffs. Utah is one of the few teams in the league with a frontline that — to a man — can challenge the Wolves. Love traditionally has struggled against Millsap. AK should more than handle Williams (and then Hayward). Will Pek be too big a load for Big Al — or vice versa? With a tough Denver back-to-back, Derrick Williams could see some (well-earned?!) extra minutes in the mountains this week.

Ricky Rubio is being treated with precaution after he failed to loosen up his back enough to play Sunday in the Wolves’ win against Phoenix. He will miss Thursday’s game against the Denver Nuggets, as well.

Kirilenko makes his return to Utah tonight after a decade spent running rampant for Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, and a year off spent in Mother Russia. Hard to believe the Utah faithful will be anything but happy to see AK47 during introductions.

Tags: Al Jefferson Kevin Love Minnesota Timberwolves Utah Jazz

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