The Hornets are winners of 11 of their last 14 games, sit firmly in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings, and look like a legitimate playoff team. Tonight, they have an opportunity to win their fourth straight game with a victory against the Timberwolves.
The Wolves are hapless, but not hopeless. They're going through a weird transition phase in which their best players are undoubtedly their youngest players, but none have developed enough to give the front office an idea of what direction to take the team. Add to that the controversial coaching of Sam Mitchell and you have the recipe for a floundering fan base.
There isn't a team in the league that wouldn't want one of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, or Zach LaVine. Things will get better. It'll just take time.
The Hornets' schedule is relatively easy from now until the playoffs, with a good number of their games coming against sub-.500 squads. That includes tonight's game against the Wolves.
And the Hornets match up extremely well with the Wolves. Kemba Walker can contain Rubio, Courtney Lee can handle LaVine, Nicolas Batum shouldn't have much issue with Wiggins, and Marvin Williams has been a stalwart defender all season, capable of guarding positions three through five with relative ease. The only problem the Wolves present is Towns.
On the surface, you might think he's just a young, versatile center that someone like Al Jefferson or Cody Zeller can guard effectively. Not the case. Jefferson remarked earlier today that he sees Towns as a skilled small forward, not a big man. And that's the reality of the situation: Towns is a new breed of player, capable of playing both inside and out with scary efficiency and poise.
On the season, he's averaging — as a rookie — 17.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.8 blocks in just 30.8 minutes per game. He's also shooting an unbelievable 54.4 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from behind the 3-point line. As a rookie. As a damn rookie. He's got Rookie of the Year locked up, methinks.
There are two ways to beat the Wolves. One, you can take Towns out of the game. Not an easy task, but a manageable one. The other is to limit Rubio's playmaking ability, evident in the Wolves being 5-17 when Rubio dishes out seven or fewer assists.
Honestly, though, the Hornets could probably play at 70 percent and pull out a win tonight. The Wolves aren't good at anything in particular, and their wins are highly dependent on a few players putting in terrific performances and huge deviations from their norms.