NBA

NBA Heat Check: Edwards leads T-Wolves improvement while Luka warms up

By Sports Desk March 22, 2021

This has not been a fun season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who remain at the foot of the Western Conference.

Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell have both missed extended periods and the team have a miserable 10-32 record, the worst in the entire NBA.

But three of those wins have come since the All-Star break, a period in which the T-Wolves are actually operating at .500.

They were 1-2 over the past week but faced a daunting schedule and appear to belatedly have some cause for optimism.

Rookie Anthony Edwards is finally cooking and leads our NBA Heat Check for March 15-21, powered by Stats Perform data.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns

If this young Minnesota team is to develop into a competitive NBA outfit, they need to have both guard Edwards and center Towns fit and firing. That was belatedly the case last week.

Edwards, the first overall pick in the 2020 draft, hinted at what was to come at the end of the previous week when he put up 34 points in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers, a career-best tally at that stage.

The benchmark was swiftly raised higher, though, as he followed up 29 points against the Los Angeles Lakers with 42 in a victory at the Phoenix Suns. That was a new T-Wolves rookie record and made Edwards the third-youngest NBA player ever to put up 40 points, after LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

The 19-year-old was not alone in passing 40 either, with Towns contributing 41 in only the second ever Minnesota game to feature two 40-point performances.

Towns' weekly average of 31.3 points - up on his prior seasonal tally of 21.8 - provided a timely reminder of his talents, while Edwards - up from 15.6 to 27.3 - will hope he has set a new standard with Rookie of the Year honours perhaps now in his sights, the race blown open by LaMelo Ball's injury.

Luka Doncic

The ROTY chase followed the same trend as the MVP hunt, with Joel Embiid and LeBron James both facing spells on the sidelines and encouraging other contenders. Doncic is not among the frontrunners quite yet, but do not bet against the Dallas Mavericks sensation.

Doncic headed into last week having missed two of the Mavs' prior four games, scoring 22 and 21 points in two wins when he did feature. By the Slovenian's lofty standards, this was a lean spell.

The 22-year-old point guard was soon back to his best, though. He averaged 35.5 points across the subsequent four games, with 42 against the Los Angeles Clippers a clear high point.

Doncic made 5.5 threes per game from 11.5 attempts for 47.8 per cent, a mark that would across the whole season rank him fourth in the league.

Joe Ingles

One of the three players with a better three-point percentage is Utah Jazz forward Ingles, who is shooting 49 per cent from beyond the arc after a week in which that figure was boosted considerably.

Having made 2.4 threes across his first 34 games of the season, Ingles converted an outstanding 5.7 over the next three.

His weekly points per game return was a hugely impressive 22.3 - up 11 on his prior average - after a career-high 34 points against the Washington Wizards, the only game the Jazz have lost this season with Ingles in the lineup.
 

GOING COLD...

Gordon Hayward and Malik Monk

Ball's injury brought a miserable end to a tough week for the Charlotte Hornets, in which they started with a win over the Sacramento Kings before losing three straight.

And Ball will be an even bigger miss than already feared if Hayward and Monk perform as they did over those four games.

Hayward started strongly but scored seven on back-to-back nights and averaged 14 points for the week, while Monk saw his minutes cut and contributed just six points per game - including none at the Lakers - as he made only two of nine threes.

Stephen Curry

Curry is another who might not be a million miles away from the MVP race, but he is trending in the wrong direction.

The Golden State Warriors great has had 62- and 57-point games this season, yet his average for the year is down to 29 after scoring 22.5 per game in meetings with the Lakers and the Houston Rockets last week.

Curry, who made six of 18 threes, then missed consecutive games with a tailbone injury.

While a slight decline in scoring is not a huge concern for the Warriors, they certainly need their main man healthy.

Trae Young

The Atlanta Hawks are enjoying a superb eight-game winning streak, but their leading scorer actually endured a tougher week shooting the basketball.

With 34 assists across three games, Young averaged a double-double, yet he scored only 16.7 points and made 0.5 threes per game. His 9.7 points per game decline on his seasonal tally was the second-worst of the week across the NBA.

Fortunately, Danilo Gallinari and John Collins stepped up, so the Hawks will now hope they can get all their stars firing at once.

Related items

  • Lloris commits to new Tottenham contract Lloris commits to new Tottenham contract

    Hugo Lloris has committed to Antonio Conte's Tottenham project by signing a new two-and-a-half-year contract with the Premier League club.

    Lloris, 35, had entered the final six months of his previous deal and was entitled to discuss an end-of-season free transfer with foreign clubs.

    He was linked with his boyhood club Nice, where he came through the academy before spending three years in the first team, but will be staying in north London.

    Tottenham confirmed the deal that will take Lloris past 10 years with the club, with the goalkeeper set to remain at Spurs until the end of the 2023-24 season.

    The news is a huge boost for Conte, who took on the Tottenham top job in November and made it clear he saw Lloris as part of the team's future.

    Conte had been optimistic a deal would be agreed, recently expressing optimism Lloris would sign "because he loves Tottenham and Tottenham loves him".

    Now that has come to fruition, meaning Tottenham need no immediate strengthening in the goalkeeping department, that boxed ticked by this move.

    Lloris joined Spurs from Lyon in August 2012 and helped the team reach the 2019 Champions League final under Mauricio Pochettino.

    He became Tottenham captain in 2015 and has worn the armband for his country since 2012, leading Les Bleus to World Cup glory in 2018.

    Since skippering France to that triumph in Russia, Lloris has underlined his status as one of Europe's premier goalkeepers.

    From August 2018 to the present day, Lloris can be shown to have prevented 21.3 goals. That is based on a calculation starting with Tottenham's expected goals on target (xGOT) conceded total of 180.3 and deducting the actual number of goals, other than own goals, that they have shipped during that time (159).

    Only four goalkeepers from Europe's top leagues have a better goal prevention record in this same three-and-a-half-season period, Opta data shows. Those are: Thibaut Courtois of Real Madrid (25.3), Liverpool's Alisson (22.9), Sevilla's Yassine Bounou (21.6), and Atletico Madrid mainstay Jan Oblak (21.6).

    Tottenham made a poor start to the season under Nuno Espirito Santo but have been revitalised in the Premier League by Conte's arrival. They have kept five clean sheets in nine games in the competition since the former Inter and Chelsea boss arrived and have soared to fifth place, with games in hand on those ahead of them.

  • Doncic 'sore' but optimistic that neck injury is not serious Doncic 'sore' but optimistic that neck injury is not serious

    Luka Doncic is hopeful of playing against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday despite suffering a neck injury in Thursday's defeat to the Phoenix Suns.

    Doncic, star man for the Dallas Mavericks, sustained the injury when he fell to the court after contact with Suns center Bismack Biyombo in the third quarter of the 109-101 loss.

    The two-time NBA All-Star was seen clutching the back of his neck after the fall and had to apply a heat pack to the area.

    The 22-year-old Slovenian made his way back onto the court to play out the final seven minutes, though he could not inspire the Mavs to victory as a four-game winning streak was snapped.

    Doncic is confident he will be fine to return against the Grizzlies, however. 

    "It's my neck. It's the spine," Doncic explained to reporters after the game. "When I fell down, I hit my back. It's pretty sore right now.

    "I think it's a little worse because it's the spine. But it'll be OK in a couple of days."

    Doncic, who registered 28 points against the Suns, played with a neck injury in last season's playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.

    He has averaged 25.2 points per game this season, 5.1 more than any other Mavs player, while he also leads the team for rebounds (8.8) and assists (8.7).

    Across 31 games so far in 2021-22, Doncic's points average is down on last season (27.7 across 61 appearances).

    The Mavs sit fifth in the Western Conference with 26-20 record and .565 win percentage. 

    Thursday's defeat was only their second in 12 games, but the Suns simply had too much. Phoenix hold the NBA's best record so far this season, sitting on 35-9 with a .795 win rate.

    Devin Booker led the Suns with 28 points, five rebounds and six assists, and claimed trust within the Phoenix roster has been crucial to their success so far.

    "We all trust each other," Booker told reporters.

    "We had a lot of learning curves last year, but having that time and that experience together, I know put us in a situation where we never hit the panic button.

    "We never get flustered or out of whack. We just stick with what we do."

  • Premier League Fantasy Picks: Man City pair look bankers, Bowen could stun Old Trafford Premier League Fantasy Picks: Man City pair look bankers, Bowen could stun Old Trafford

    The Premier League is a week away from its winter break, but a feast of football awaits us before then, along with fantasy point-scoring opportunities.

    Leaders Manchester City head to Southampton and will look to extend their 12-game winning run in the competition, at the expense of opponents who are unbeaten in their last seven league games at St Mary's.

    Manchester United have a tricky assignment against David Moyes' West Ham, and you might consider a Hammers forward to break down Ralf Rangnick's defence at Old Trafford.

    If the time is right to back your strong start to the season, there are proven fantasy league performers to choose from here among this week's picks, and a strong case to be made for others you may not have considered.

    EDERSON (Southampton v Manchester City)

    Pep Guardiola's trusted City goalkeeper has kept more Premier League clean sheets (12) and faced fewer shots on target per 90 minutes (2.2) than any other goalkeeper this season.

    City have faced 50 shots on target across 22 games and have conceded only 13 goals, so another shut-out must be a realistic proposition on the south coast.

    Ederson has played in all but one of those Premier League assignments for City this term, and although Southampton have won three and drawn four of their last seven 2021-22 home league games – their best record since going nine unbeaten from March to October 2016 – it is the visitors who start this clash as strong favourites.

    JOAO CANCELO (Southampton v Manchester City)

    City's defence has been close to watertight this season, but Cancelo's role at full-back is more than just about stopping the opposition.

    Only the Liverpool duo of Trent Alexander-Arnold (10) and Andrew Robertson (6) have provided more Premier League assists among defenders this season than Cancelo (5).

    He has also had 44 goal attempts, with 15 of them finding the target, and his tally of one goal scored will surely grow soon enough.

    DAVINSON SANCHEZ (Chelsea v Tottenham)

    Can Tottenham be trusted to keep a clean sheet against Chelsea, in Sunday's headline game? This choice would represent a gamble, albeit one that can to an extent be rationalised by data.

    Since December 1, Sanchez has been involved in a Tottenham defence that has kept four clean sheets in seven Premier League appearances. Indeed, only Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte (5) has kept more clean sheets during that time among top-flight defenders. New boss Antonio Conte is making a difference at Spurs, no doubt about it.

    The counter-argument here comes with the fact Chelsea have won five of their last six league games against Spurs (D1), and beat them in both legs of the EFL Cup semi-finals.

    RAPHINHA (Leeds United v Newcastle United)

    Leeds United have woken from their slumber in the Premier League, winning twice in a row to climb to 15th place, just three points behind Leicester City in 10th spot.

    Last time out it was Jack Harrison who was the hero, with a hat-trick at West Ham, but Raphinha is their Mr Consistency.

    The Brazilian set up Harrison's match-winning third goal at the London Stadium, and since the beginning of the 2020-21 Premier League season, Raphinha is one of just five players to have registered 10 or more goals, 10 or more assists and created over 100 chances in the English top division.

    JARROD BOWEN (Manchester United v West Ham)

    Former Hull City forward Bowen has been involved in 13 goals in the Premier League this season (6 goals, 7 assists) and opponents Manchester United will be wary of his quality.

    Indeed, only Mohamed Salah (25) and Bowen's West Ham team-mate Michail Antonio (14) have been involved in more Premier League goals this term.

    To strike a slight note of caution, Bowen only has an expected assists (xA) total of 2.94, meaning West Ham have made more of his chances created than they would ordinarily be expected to, while Bowen is slightly lagging behind his expected goals (xG) total of 8.29. That said, the Red Devils will surely not underestimate his threat.

    ROBERTO FIRMINO (Crystal Palace v Liverpool)

    With Salah and Sadio Mane still away at the Africa Cup of Nations, Brazilian forward Firmino again looks set for a starting role as the Reds travel to Selhurst Park on Sunday.

    Firmino has been involved in six Premier League goals against Palace in his last five appearances (4 goals, 2 assists), having been involved in just two across his first seven games against the Eagles in the competition (2 goals).

    Starting with a double in a 7-0 win in this exact fixture last season, each of Firmino's last 10 Premier League goals have all come away from home. Liverpool have won their last six Premier League away games against Palace.

    ALLAN SAINT-MAXIMIN (Leeds United v Newcastle United)

    Can Newcastle beat the drop? Their best hope before the transfer window opened up a new world of possibilities appeared to lie with the fast feet of Saint-Maximin, and he remains their star attacker for now.

    The French winger has scored in each of his last two Premier League appearances, with those goals earning 1-1 draws with Manchester United and Watford.

    Now here lies the problem with trusting such form: he has never scored in three successive appearances in the competition. However, Saint-Maximin did score in the reverse fixture against Leeds in September, another 1-1 result for the Magpies.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.