Timberwolves-Suns Preview

Both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns continue to

sink at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Neither

team has showed much sign that it’s capable of a surge before the

end of the season.

Minnesota, still the league’s worst perimeter shooting team,

will try to snap a string of nine straight road losses Friday night

at Phoenix, which is mired in an especially bad offensive

slump.

The Timberwolves (23-43) have lost two in a row and 12 of 15

overall and 17 of 18 on the road after a 101-98 defeat at

Sacramento on Thursday.

Nikola Pekovic stole the ball with 12 seconds left to give

Minnesota a chance, but Dante Cunningham’s 3-point attempt at the

buzzer missed – not surprising given the team’s dismal shooting

from long distance all season.

Minnesota ranks last in the NBA at 29.4 percent from 3-point

range, making just 21.6 percent in six March road games. The

Timberwolves were 1 for 19 from beyond the arc Thursday, the only

conversion coming from Chase Budinger as he played his first game

since tearing his meniscus in November.

Budinger, who averaged 11.8 points in six contests before the

injury, scored nine and made 3 of 7 from the field in 18 minutes of

action in Sacramento. Coach Rick Adelman will look for the career

36.1 percent 3-point shooter – and former Arizona standout – to

give Minnesota’s anemic shooting a spark.

“Just the way he moves without the ball. He’s used to moving

without the ball,” Adelman said. “That will help us a lot. And he

certainly can stretch the defense.”

Adelman was certainly happy to see a healthy Ricky Rubio on

Thursday after he left Monday’s defeat in Memphis with a groin

strain. Rubio had 12 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the

loss to the Kings, though he struggled from the field, going 4 of

13.

The Suns (23-46) hit just 33.7 percent from the floor in an

88-79 home loss to Washington on Wednesday, and they’ve dropped

five of six as a good rhythm continues to elude their offense.

Phoenix is averaging 91.8 points with 27.6 percent 3-point

shooting and 18.5 turnovers per game during its last six contests.

For the season, only Minnesota is worse than the Suns’ 32.4 percent

mark from beyond the arc.

More discouraging for coach Lindsey Hunter on Wednesday was what

he perceived as a lack of effort.

“I wasn’t happy with (any) of our young guys,” Hunter said. “It

wasn’t about mistakes they made. It was about effort. It was about

fight, having a sense of urgency. This is unacceptable.”

The Suns – already without Marcin Gortat for the rest of the

season due to a Lisfranc sprain – saw another big man go down

against the Wizards. Jermaine O’Neal had to be helped to the locker

room late in the game because of a strained left calf.

If O’Neal is out, Phoenix will likely have to lean more heavily

on Luis Scola inside. Scola has come off the bench the last four

games after starting 43 straight, but he’s averaging 18.6 points

and 7.6 rebounds in his last 12 games against Minnesota.

These teams have split two meetings this season, including an

84-83 overtime victory for Phoenix at home Feb. 26. That’s one of

13 straight road losses against West opponents for Minnesota.