The lineup tweak that could improve the Timberwolves' chances

May 24, 2024; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77)
May 24, 2024; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) / Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

After Luka Doncic hit a stepback 3-pointer over Rudy Gobert on Friday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the dreaded 0-2 in the Western Conference Finals. The bad news for the Wolves is no higher seed has come back from such a deficit in playoff history.

Although dropping two straight at the Target Center is disheartening, the Dallas Mavericks have won both games by a combined four points. Minnesota even led in the fourth quarter of both affairs before ultimately winding up in the loss column.

Several issues have stood out defensively as the Wolves face uncharted waters. First, the drop coverage used in the pick-and-roll yielded numerous easy baskets. Both Mavericks guards were easily able to manipulate the defense. Both Doncic and Kyrie Irving scored at least 30 points in Game 1.

Second, using a switch in the pick-and-roll led to Minnesota's demise in Game 2. Sure Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year, but defending a superstar such as Doncic takes a special kind of player. The Wolves only employ two: Jaden McDaniels and Kyle Anderson.

Playing Nickeil Alexander-Walker starter minutes is the Timberwolves' best bet

Finally, a lineup alteration is the safest bet instead of multiple defensive tactics. What that means is substituting Mike Conley for either Nickeil Alexander-Walker or Anderson. It doesn't have to be at the beginning of games, but one of the two must see an increase in playing time to shore up the Wolves defense.

As Timberwolves reporter Dane Moore pointed out, Anthony Edwards is a great isolation defender, but he struggles when navigating screens and pursuing the ball. In 14 minutes defending Irving, Edwards has allowed the star guard to score 13 points and knock down 60.0 percent of his field goals.

To alleviate the mismatch, substituting Conley for Alexander-Walker would allow the latter to spend his time defending Irving. That way, Edwards would be granted with Derrick Jones Jr. as his defensive assignment. In doing so, the Wolves star would also preserve his energy to use on the offensive end.

Anderson is an option here too, but with Anderson comes crammed spacing. Alexander-Walker *theoretically* boosts Minnesota's offensive and defensive potential. In his last three games, he's 0-of-11 from downtown, which has in tune led to a decrease in playing time.

However, in the two games prior, Alexander-Walker splashed 7-of-13 triples. His shooting is come and go, but it's a risk Minnesota must be willing to take. At 6 feet, defending the Mavs' jumbo-sized pick-and-roll is a tall task. Sure, throwing Conley on Irving is a possibility, but Minnesota has typically used Conley to defend the lesser of the starting guards.

It's worth a look, but Alexander-Walker is a tried and true defender. He's 6-foot-5 and active on the defensive end. The 25-year-old guard is even capable of picking up his matchup for the length of the court.

Conley has never missed a start as a Timberwolf, thus allowing Alexander-Walker to come in after a few minutes and close the game is ideal. The only downside to the lineup tweak is Conley's superb game management and leadership. Without Conley on the floor, the Wolves would lack a lead guard.

On the flip side, Edwards is more than capable of initiating the offense. Furthermore, if his defensive energy is spared, he'll have an easier time breaking down the Mavericks' defense and getting to the rim.