Having fallen back under .500, the once-surprising Minnesota Timberwolves might be stuck there for a while longer with games against last season’s NBA finalists up next.
A rejuvenated Tim Duncan will try to extend his best stretch of the season as the San Antonio Spurs look to deal the Timberwolves their seventh loss in nine games Wednesday night in Mexico City.
This is the NBA’s 21st game south of the border but first in the regular season since Dallas faced Houston on Dec. 6, 1997. This is the first time playing in Mexico for Minnesota and the fifth for San Antonio, and both teams will have two days off after this game in the high altitude at Mexico City Arena.
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“We have to be very aware on probably getting guys in earlier than we normally would,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. “We had a scrimmage to get ready for it. Our substitutions will be quicker.”
Following this matchup with a team tied atop the Western Conference, Minnesota (9-10) plays its only other game this week Saturday against Miami – second in the East after beating the Spurs for the title in June.
Duncan averaged 22.8 points in the final four games of that series but was at a career-low 11.3 through 13 games this season while shooting 39.2 percent. He’s snapped out of that funk by scoring 20.7 per game in his last three, hitting 63.4 percent from the field.
The 14-time All-Star is coming off his best performance with 23 points and a season-high 21 rebounds in a 102-100 victory over Atlanta on Monday. He made a jumper with 0.4 seconds left to help San Antonio (15-3) avoid its third loss in four games.
Duncan became the oldest player with 20 points and 20 rebounds since the NBA began keeping track of rebounds during the 1985-86 season. It was just his third 20-20 game of the past seven-plus seasons.
“I feel a lot healthier now,” the 37-year-old power forward said. “For a while there, I was dealing with some stuff, but now my body is feeling good and I’m starting to get my legs underneath me.”
Duncan had 17 points and 14 rebounds in the most recent meeting with the Timberwolves, but Tony Parker was limited to 15 points and 3 of 10 from the field in a 108-95 loss April 17 that snapped Minnesota’s 16-game losing streak in San Antonio.
Parker missed a 107-83 defeat in Minneapolis on March 12 after scoring 31 in a 104-94 victory there Feb. 6. The Spurs, 9-0 against the Timberwolves when Parker scores more than 20, now look to avoid losing three straight meetings with Minnesota for the first time since 1997.
The Timberwolves jumped out to a 5-2 start following a fourth consecutive last-place finish in the Northwest Division last season, but poor defense has caused a downfall. They’ve surrendered an average of 109.2 points on 51.6 percent shooting – including 46.7 from 3-point range – while dropping four of five.
Minnesota allowed 35 points in the fourth quarter at Oklahoma City on Sunday, blowing a five-point lead in a 113-103 loss.
“We played tired and lost our confidence with what we’re supposed to do,” guard Kevin Martin told the league’s official website. “We’ll learn from that and move on.”
Martin finished with 24 points, Nikola Pekovic had 22 and 10 rebounds, and Kevin Love added his league-leading 18th double-double with 16 and 12.
Love, however, is shooting 34.3 percent over his last four games. He’s averaging 22.0 points and 17.1 boards in his last seven against the Spurs, though he missed last season’s series due to injury.
Parker missed a game last week with a sprained ankle but has since totaled 42 points and 15 assists in two games for the Spurs, who play their next three in three countries. After this matchup, they host East-leading Indiana on Saturday before visiting Toronto on Tuesday.