December 18, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 112-106. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: San Antonio Spurs (38-11) @ Minnesota Timberwolves (18-27)

The Spurs sit atop the Western Conference standings, 1 1/2 games ahead of Oklahoma City, as their annual rodeo road trip gets underway tonight in Minneapolis, the first of 9 road games. Tim Duncan is expected to return from a left knee sprain sometime during the road trip, but likely will not return tonight. Manu Ginobili is also doubtful out with a hamstring injury.

Spurs probable starting lineup:

PG Tony Parker

SG Danny Green

SF Kawhi Leonard

PF DeJuan Blair

C Tiago Splitter

Blair, Boris Diaw or Matt Bonner could take Timmy’s spot in the starting lineup. His brief absence is certainly not the apocalyptic event it would have been even 5 years ago, as this offense is driven by Parker’s penetration and the resulting ball movement. Defenses scramble when Parker enters the paint. He is averaging 10 assists and 24 points on 66% shooting (with only 1/2 a 3 attempted a game) over the last 5 games.

The Spurs offensive juggernaut plays the 6th quickest pace in the league, is the 4th most efficient, scores the 4th most points per game, has the 3rd best true shooting percentage, and is 2nd in point differential. How does all this change without Ginobili and Duncan?

Duncan and Ginobili are the Spurs 2nd and 3rd highest scorers. Duncan is 2nd in minutes, Ginobili is 5th. You could argue the Spurs have learned to adjust to life without Ginobili. He’s missed 9 games with various injuries this season, as has been the overall trend of his career. Duncan is having himself quite a throwback year. He’s leading the Spurs in rebounding and 3rd in the league in blocks. The depth behind Manu is significantly, er, deeper, than that behind Timmy.

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Ricky Rubio

SG Luke Ridnour

SF Mickael Gelabale

PF Derrick Williams

C Nikola Pekovic

Tortured lineups have been the norm for the Wolves this season, and this starting lineup is no exception. Ridnour has been equally serviceable and awful and Gelabale is on his 2nd 10-day contract and unless Rick Adelman goes with a lineup similar to that which closed out their loss to the Portland Trail Blazers and inserts Alexey Shved in at small forward or slides Williams over and puts Dante Cunningham beside him, this is your starting lineup against the Spurs.

That said, the frontcourt depth of the Spurs could be tested if Pek gets established early and Rubio continues his trend of getting into the paint. After Splitter, Boris and Blair are thrown Pek’s way, that’s all the Spurs have.

On the wing, looking over at just the Spurs non-All Star options of Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, even Stephen Jackson, the Wolves have issues with their 3-point shooting. Containing Tony Parker will be the Wolves 1st, 2nd and 3rd job on defense. If the Wolves bigs prove as effete as they were defending the pick and roll for the first 3 1/2 quarters against Portland, things could get just as ugly.

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Tags: Minnesota Timberwolves Pregame Preview San Antonio Spurs

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