Preview: Wolves at Raptors
TORONTO — While the Minnesota Timberwolves were losing 105-100 to the Atlanta Hawks Monday night, the Toronto Raptors had the day off in the schedule to contemplate some payback when the teams play Tuesday night.
The Timberwolves defeated the Raptors 115-109 on Jan. 20 in Minnesota, but they are facing some steep odds for the rematch at the Air Canada Centre.
Although the Timberwolves have won three in a row over the Raptors at the Target Center, they have lost 13 in a row at the ACC.
The Raptors (33-15), meanwhile, defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 123-111 Sunday night, led by a career-best 25 points from reserve point guard Fred VanVleet and have split the first two games of a three-game homestand. The Raptors are 18-4 at home.
VanVleet made three of four 3-point attempts against the Lakers and the Raptors had a 12-for-31 (38.7 percent) game from beyond the arc, which is an improvement from their normal performance on 3-pointers this season.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey, in fact, is working at improving his team’s 3-point shooting.
The Raptors are shooting 35.1 percent in 3-point attempts this season, which ranks 24th in the NBA. The Timberwolves are the only playoff-bound team in the league that has a worse 3-point shooting percentage (35.0 percent).
“We’ve got to become a better 3-point making team,” Casey said after practice Monday. “We’re getting them up, but we’ve got to concentrate. I think a lot of that is rhythm, guys understanding. Jonas (center Valanciunas) is definitely getting a better rhythm and feel for when he has it, when he can step into them, which we want him to do.
“A lot of that is game experience, getting them in the game. Guys work on them like you see right here every day. But there’s a difference between game feel.”
Valanciunas, who was reluctant to put up the long ball in the past, is 11-for-25 (44 percent) in 3-pointers this season after making his only attempt at one Sunday.
The victory over the Lakers clinched the coaching position for Team LeBron in the All-Star Game for Casey and his staff.
“It’s cool,” said Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, who will play in the All-Star Game. “It’s something that for the last couple of years we’ve been fighting for. What an accomplishment, you want to see a coaching staff get in there and be able to coach in an All-Star Game as well. It’s one of my goals ever since I got my first All-Star. You want to look over there and see your coach coaching. It was fun, just congratulating all of them and they deserve it.”
The Timberwolves (32-21) are 12-15 on the road this season — including a 1-7 record in away games in January — after their loss to the Hawks at the Philips Arena.
Minnesota had an 11-point lead halfway through the third quarter in Atlanta but fell behind early in the fourth quarter after the Hawks went on an 11-2 surge that included two goaltending calls on Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Timberwolves made a series of mistakes late in the game to seal their fate.
“It felt like we could have put them away in that third quarter,” said Timberwolves forward Taj Gibson, who missed a free throw that would have tied the game at 101 near the end of the fourth quarter. “We just didn’t get it done. When you give a team like that confidence late in the game, it gets scary. They start hitting hard, tough shots.”
“We didn’t finish the third well, didn’t start the fourth well,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That was probably the game and the rebounding was a problem all night. It was a compilation of things, but it really started at the end of the third.”