Apr 9, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson (25) reacts to a call during the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at EnergySolutions Arena. The Thunder won 90-80. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves (29-49) @ Utah Jazz (41-38)

Utah is in a dogfight with the Lakers for the right to be swept by the Thunder or Spurs in the first round final seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. With both having 3 games remaining and the Lakers a single game up, the Jazz are going to have to take advantage of their schedule to have a shot. Utah plays the Wolves twice before finishing the season against Memphis, while the Lakers have to contend with the Warriors, Spurs and Rockets. After needing 47 points from Kobe to beat a Portland team that started 4 rookies beside LaMarcus Aldridge, the Lakers might need the Wolves help.

If Minnesota splits the next 2 games with Utah, that might give the Lakers enough cushion to survive.

Jazz probable starting lineup:

PG Mo Williams

SG Randy Foye

SF Gordon Hayward

PF Paul Millsap

C Al Jefferson

With Enes Kanter lost for the season with surgery on his dislocated left shoulder, the vaunted (or crowded) rotation of Jazz bigs has been whittled down to 3. Millsap struggled in Utah’s loss to the Thunder, going 4-11 and scoring 8 points with 5 turnovers. Derrick Favors fared a little better, going 3-7 with 8 points and 8 rebounds and 5 blocks as Jefferson did his thing, going for 15 and 11 on 13 shots, as the Jazz lost by 10 to OKC.

Hayward has been heating up over the last month, mostly as a starter, he’s improved his shooting to the tune of 49% over his last 5 and hitting 43% from 3 (2.6-6 a game) over the same span.

Not coincidentally, Williams returned from injury and has averaged 6 assists a game and over 41% from 3. Giving the Jazz both a strong perimeter scoring threat and a solid overall distributor.

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Ricky Rubio

SG Luke Ridnour

SF Andrei Kirilenko

PF Derrick Williams

C Nikola Pekovic

Listening to the Clippers feed in the 3rd quarter as the Wolves got destroyed by the Clippers, it was interesting to hear how Derrick Williams is perceived by those who don’t see him every night. His efforts on the boards were lauded (justly, he finished with 10) and his 3-12 performance was regarded as though the 9 misses never occurred. Nevermind, his 10 boards were his most in weeks or that he was getting destroyed by Blake Griffin’s great positioning and athleticism for most of the game, it’s interesting how much shine is still left on him after two tepid years with the Wolves.

Rubio’s 7-12 (5-6 from deep) performance against the Bucks seems further away than last Wednesday. Even with that performance, he’s shooting 25% over his last 5. If it was only Rubio shooting this poorly, it maybe could be feasible to work around, but with Kirilenko and Williams throwing up 3-10, 3-12 nights sandwiched around an 8-10, 7-11 night, it makes their percentages look passable while absolutely killing the Wolves when combined with Rubio’s consistently abysmal shooting.

Pek has been the rock the Wolves can rely on, putting up 19 and 8 on 53% shooting. (Save that stinker against Golden State, of course.) It’s baffling why the Wolves can’t get Pek more involved as the game wears on until you realize he’s the only consistent option the Wolves have early and once it’s taken away they have no counter without some semblance of outside shooting. Against Big Al, Big Favors and Millsap the Wolf-killer, they’ll need more than just Pek.

 

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Tags: Minnesota Timberwolves Playoffs Pregame Preview Utah Jazz

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