HomeSports2024 NBA Playoff Preview: Timberwolves vs. Series Breakdown and Prediction Suns

2024 NBA Playoff Preview: Timberwolves vs. Series Breakdown and Prediction Suns

The Western Conference’s third-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves (56-26) and sixth-seeded Phoenix Suns (49-33) will meet in the first round of the 2024 NBA playoffs. The two franchises have never met in the late season; let it never be said that there is nothing new under the sun. Or, I guess, the wolf.

By getting their reconsideration right.

You trade for Rudy Gobert because you want to get stops. And after an up-and-down first year, that’s exactly what the Timberwolves did this season.

The wolves are playing enormous: 7-footers Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns (just returned from a torn meniscus) up front; the tall and physical Jaden McDaniels and Anthony Edwards on the wing; even more size from the bench, headlined by Sixth Man of the Year candidate Naz Reid. Playing that big led to big improvements in almost every defensive category – including defensive efficiency, where the Wolves led the NBA in points allowed per possession.

“They beat us up,” Celtics All-Star Jaylen Brown told reporters. “…They were the first team to put that kind of pressure on us.”

At their best, they can apply that kind of pressure on the other end: lineups featuring the edge-running Gobert, the handsome Towns, the ascendant Edwards and the rock-solid point guard Mike Conley have scored 120.6 points per 100 possessions, which would having spent the entire season ranked third in the NBA.

Size, skill, a meat grinder defense and two scorers who can explode for 50: that’s Minnesota’s recipe. It had an incredibly high regular season floor. Now we’re looking at the ceiling after the season.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 14: Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns passes the ball against Rudy Gobert #27 of the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first quarter at Target Center on April 14, 2024 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The Suns defeated the Timberwolves 125-106.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photo, user agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
The Suns and Wolves will meet in the playoffs for the first time ever. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

How the suns got here

By showing juuuuuuuus enough.

After losing to Denver in the 2023 second round with both Chris Paul (injury) and Deandre Ayton (insult) sidelined, Phoenix has remade its roster by flipping CP3 and Ayton for Bradley Beal, Jusuf Nurkić and Grayson Allen. The plan: Team Kevin Durant and Devin Booker with an All-NBA caliber third playmaker; gonna burn the defense. The results: somewhat mixed.

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The suns did win four more games than last season, did boast a top-10 offense and did scorched opponents with Beal, Booker and Durant on the floor, scoring 123.3 points per 100 Big Three possessions — a tick above the Celtics’ NBA-best all-season mark. The problem: With injuries costing Beal 29 games, the trio didn’t see action until the Suns’ 24th game of the season, at which point Phoenix barely got above .500. All told, Beal, Booker and Durant have amassed just 862 shared minutes in 41 games — not enough to develop the kind of chemistry and flow that would elevate them to the top of a hyper-competitive West.

The glass is half full: Phoenix escaped the play-in by going 7-3 in its brutal season-ending 10-game gauntlet — headlined, for our purposes, by beating the Wolves twice in 10 days, including the regular Sunday’s season finale.


The Suns won the season series 3-0 – with three double-digit wins.

In mid-November, Durant and Booker combined to score 62 points as the Suns scored 1.5 points per possession—Phoenix’s most efficient offensive performance of the season—in a blowout victory:

On April 5, Phoenix was at its best defensive performance on the season, leaving Minnesota shooting just 38.8% – Minnesota’s second-worst night of the year – for a comfortable W:

And on Sunday – with Minnesota still having a chance to secure the West’s No. 1 seed on the final day of the season – a decisive start for Phoenix (16-for-24 shooting) and a dismal start for the Wolves ( 11 coughing fits in 12 minutes) led to a 22-point lead for Suns after the first quarter. They kept the Wolves at bay the rest of the way, with Beal having perhaps his best game as a Sun:

According to Cleaning the Glass, the Wolves scored just 108.9 points per 100 this season, the best mark in the NBA. However, during three regular season meetings, the Suns torched them to the tune 129.3 points per 100.

Perhaps that is the result of unsustainably hot shooting; perhaps it’s a sign of a specific mismatch in Phoenix’s favor. Either way, it places the higher seed on unstable ground.

“Find a way to beat Phoenix,” Edwards said Sunday when asked about Minnesota’s mentality. “Because we didn’t succeed.”

Match-up to watch

How Phoenix defends Edwards.

As much as they struggled defensively against the Suns’ elite shooting, the Wolves had just as much difficulty scoring against Frank Vogel’s team. Minnesota scored just 102.7 points per 100 over three losses to Phoenix — a full five points shy of the worst offense of the regular season.

One big reason: Ant had a great time against the Suns, averaging just 14.3 points per game – his lowest scoring average against any Western opponent – ​​on 13-for-42 shooting (31%) from the field , with 11 assists and 10 turnovers.

The Suns come at Edwards aggressively when he has the ball. When Edwards calls a screener to run a pick-and-roll, centers Nurkić and Drew Eubanks hedge hard in an attempt to force the ball out of his hands. When looking to attack his man — usually Beal or Allen, although Durant, Booker and Royce O’Neale have worked shifts — Phoenix has helped defenders into gaps, and weak-side defenders stepped up early to let Edwards play as as much traffic as possible.

The result? Stalemate:

Edwards will counter punch. He will vary his offense – chasing early plays in transition, launching pull-up 3s over the Phoenix wall, cutting from the weak side after coming off the ball, hitting the offensive glass – looking for opportunities and rhythm.

However, if that rhythm remains elusive, and if the Suns continue to help this aggressive, then Edwards will have to rely on the pass… and his teammates will have to reward that trust. Non-Ant Wolves have shot just 21-for-71 (29.6%) from 3-point land against Phoenix this season; If that continues, Minnesota will struggle to keep pace.

Closing arrangements

Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves’ commitment to greatness continues late; Gobert-KAT-McDaniels-Ant-Conley is also their top lineup for the fourth quarter. Reid and Kyle Anderson also see plenty of runs in the fourth quarter.

But SloMo’s long-term reluctance – he made 94 three-pointers in 2020-2021; He taken 48 this season – could make him unplayable against Phoenix’s hyper-aggressive backup. And Towns and Reid, for all their virtues, may struggle to defend cross-matches against Phoenix’s wings.

So: keep an eye on Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

NAW has the length (6-foot-5, almost 6-foot-10 wingspan), defensive chops (third among guards on defense (estimated plus-minus) and skill (39.1% from 3, 2.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio) to make a difference in this matchup. Maybe even at the expense of a big man at center.

Phoenix suns
While the Wolves are built to stay big and defend, the Suns make their bones by spreading you out with shooting. The Nurkić-Durant-Allen-Beal-Booker lineup was both their most used group in the fourth quarter, outscoring their opponents by 37 points in 76 minutes in the final frame, and their best performance against Minnesota overall – plus -35 in 27 minutes.

I would expect O’Neale (whose minutes Phoenix has outscored opponents by 9.4 points per 100 since arriving from Brooklyn at the trade deadline) and Eric Gordon (who missed the season finale with a migraine) to play a role in the also to blend. The Suns can’t match Minnesota in size; they have to win by keeping their distance, shooting and making plays. It’s a good thing they’ve had enough of that.


Sunbathing in six. I’ve loved this Wolves team all season; I hate this matchup for them. The exact shots Minnesota fires are the shots Phoenix relishes. As much as I trust Ant, and as confident as I am that Wolves coach Chris Finch will cook the counters this week, I’m not sure I trust Minnesota’s shooters enough to short-circuit Phoenix’s defensive scheme. And despite all the uncertainty about the Suns’ top executives getting and staying healthy, they are healthy now. That gives Phoenix more routes to points than Minnesota, and thus a path to Round 2.

Series of opportunities

Minnesota Timberwolves (+100)
Phoenix Suns (-120)

Series schedule (all times Eastern)

Game 1: Phoenix at Minnesota on Saturday (TBA)
Game 2: Phoenix, Minnesota (TBA)
Game 3: Minnesota at Phoenix (TBD)
Game 4: Minnesota at Phoenix (TBA)
*Game 5: Phoenix, Minnesota (TBA)
*Game 6: Minnesota at Phoenix (TBA)
*Game 7: Phoenix, Minnesota (TBA)

*If necessary

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