Pacers looking to expose Minnesota’s defense

"We got to be ready to play on the road," Indiana guard Victor Oladipo said.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Spor

When asked about what needs to be fixed about his team’s defense, Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau gave a succinct two-word answer.

“A lot,” Thibodeau told reporters after Saturday’s 140-136 loss in Dallas when Jimmy Butler sat out to rest.

Butler is expected to play Monday and the Timberwolves hope to start getting some improved defense when they host the Indiana Pacers.

Through three games, Minnesota is allowing 125 points per game, owns one of the league’s worst defensive ratings of 121.7 and is allowing opponents to shoot 47.2 percent. On Saturday, as Butler rested on the second night of a back-to-back and did not make the trip, the Wolves allowed 43 points in the fourth quarter when the Mavericks shot 68 percent and 50 percent for the game.

Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves with 31 points but only grabbed five rebounds on a night when the Mavericks won the rebounding battle 42-33. It marked the third straight game Minnesota was outrebounded.

“We have to as bigs get to rebounds,” Towns said. “Get good box-outs and have to, as a team, gang rebound and get the ball. We got a lead by getting those rebounds, getting in transition and utilizing our athleticism and our speed and our talent. We have to be able to utilize that better.”

Butler was replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Josh Okogie, who scored six points in 28 minutes. Okogie will be on the bench Monday as will Derrick Rose, who scored 28 points but also allowed Dennis Smith Jr’s game-winning three-point play with 6.1 seconds left.

“It seemed like everybody I was sticking tonight hit a shot, a tough shot on me,” Rose said. “I got to do a better job with contesting shots.”

Minnesota will hope to do better in all facets against a team which is starting a three-game trip that will send them to San Antonio and Cleveland. So far, the Pacers have won two of three, sandwiching home wins against Memphis and Brooklyn around a double-digit loss at Milwaukee on Friday.

“We got to be ready to play on the road,” Indiana guard Victor Oladipo said. “A different type of environment. It’s more hostile and guys are ready to play. They’re ready to defend their home court.”

Indiana learned those things the hard way Friday in Milwaukee when it shot 43.7 percent, committed 17 turnovers and trailed by as many as 28.

The Pacers rebounded nicely on Saturday with a 132-112 victory over Brooklyn. Oladipo scored 25 points for the second straight game but this time things were drastically better for the Pacers.

Indiana shot 55 percent, placed eight in double figures and led by as many as 29 while scoring 30 points off 20 turnovers. The Pacers also registered 58 points in the paint and were 16 of 24 from 3-point range.

“We could be very effective if we continue to get contributions from everybody like that,” Oladipo said. “For the most part, we just have to keep getting better. If we do that and continue to keep growing, continue to keep playing with confidence through good days and bad days, then the sky is the limit for us.”

Indiana played without forward Domantas Sabonis because of a bruised right knee and is questionable for Monday. If Sabonis does not play, Kyle O’Quinn would likely see some of those minutes after getting 16 points and eight rebounds.

The Pacers have won their last four trips to Minnesota but struggled in the last meeting in Indianapolis. In Minnesota’s 107-90 victory Dec. 31, the Wolves scored the first 12 points and held Indiana scoreless for the first 6:45 as Butler scored 26 points.