Jan 17, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry (7) goes past Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (42) at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Timberwolves 94-89. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Wolves (31-30) vs. Raptors (34-26)

Sunday evening brings the toughest challenge of this generally easy home stand as the Toronto Raptors, currently sitting in the third spot in the Eastern Conference with a record of 34-26, visit Target Center.

Yes, 34-26 sure doesn’t sound like the record of a #3 seed. But this is 2013-14, and that is a micorcosm of the East. Or think about it this way: Minnesota, at 31-30, would be in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, and only a game behind Washington for 5th and 2 1/2 games behind Chicago and home court advantage in the first round. (Of course, the Wolves’ record would certainly be much better if they were so fortunate as to play an East-heavy slate…oh well.)

Sour grapes aside, Toronto is indeed a good squad. They have improved mightily since dumping Rudy Gay (in fairness, he’s played well to this point in Sacrament0) on the Kings, and Kyle Lowry is having one of the top-three, if not the best, season by a point guard in the NBA this year and should have been an All-Star. DeMar DeRozen has taken a leap forward that I’m not sure anyone quite expected, or even could have hoped for.

And the rest of the team has fallen into place. The bench was fortified in the Gay trade to Sacramento, with Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez joining the squad. Amir Johnson has been very good, and Jonas Valanciunas has remained consistent from his solid rookie season of a year ago.

This team is absolutely one of the four best in the East, but in all honesty, they would struggle to reach the post-season if they were in the Western Conference. From top to bottom, the Wolves are a better squad, and tonight is an important chance to prove that they are indeed better than a top Eastern Conference playoff team.

In the first meeting between the two teams, Toronto pulled out an 94-89 win at Air Canada Centre. Kevin Love was held to just 16 points on 7 of 19 shooting, along with 12 rebounds and 3 assists. Nobody played particularly well for Minnesota, as Kevin Martin’s 18 points on 7 of 14 shooting led the team, and Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic were both held in check.

Lowry was able to do whatever he pleased against Rubio and his back court mates in the first contest, beating them to the tune of 24 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. The Wolves were able to force both DeRozen and Terrence Ross into inefficient nights, and the bench was largely a non-factor as well.

They key tonight is to control penetration by Toronto’s guards, which allows the Raptors’ spot-up shooters to get open looks. Of course, we all know that this is the Wolves’ Achilles heel on defense, so they’ll rely heavily on Rubio to perform better than he did in the first meeting.

The Wolves should win tonight, but it will likely be a tough game to put away easily. This is yet another must-win, as Memphis pulled out a couple of tough wins on Friday and Saturday, keeping the Wolves at arm’s length.

Tip is at 6:00 CT, and we’ll see you here after the game.

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Tags: Demar DeRozen Kevin Love Kyle Lowry Minnesota Timberwolves NBA News Ricky Rubio Rudy Gay

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