Timberwolves-Suns Preview


Both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns continue to sink at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Neither team has showed much sign that it's capable of a surge before the end of the season.

Minnesota, still the league's worst perimeter shooting team, will try to snap a string of nine straight road losses Friday night at Phoenix, which is mired in an especially bad offensive slump.

The Timberwolves (23-43) have lost two in a row and 12 of 15 overall and 17 of 18 on the road after a 101-98 defeat at Sacramento on Thursday.

Nikola Pekovic stole the ball with 12 seconds left to give Minnesota a chance, but Dante Cunningham's 3-point attempt at the buzzer missed - not surprising given the team's dismal shooting from long distance all season.

Minnesota ranks last in the NBA at 29.4 percent from 3-point range, making just 21.6 percent in six March road games. The Timberwolves were 1 for 19 from beyond the arc Thursday, the only conversion coming from Chase Budinger as he played his first game since tearing his meniscus in November.

Budinger, who averaged 11.8 points in six contests before the injury, scored nine and made 3 of 7 from the field in 18 minutes of action in Sacramento. Coach Rick Adelman will look for the career 36.1 percent 3-point shooter - and former Arizona standout - to give Minnesota's anemic shooting a spark.

"Just the way he moves without the ball. He's used to moving without the ball," Adelman said. "That will help us a lot. And he certainly can stretch the defense."

Adelman was certainly happy to see a healthy Ricky Rubio on Thursday after he left Monday's defeat in Memphis with a groin strain. Rubio had 12 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the loss to the Kings, though he struggled from the field, going 4 of 13.

The Suns (23-46) hit just 33.7 percent from the floor in an 88-79 home loss to Washington on Wednesday, and they've dropped five of six as a good rhythm continues to elude their offense.

Phoenix is averaging 91.8 points with 27.6 percent 3-point shooting and 18.5 turnovers per game during its last six contests. For the season, only Minnesota is worse than the Suns' 32.4 percent mark from beyond the arc.

More discouraging for coach Lindsey Hunter on Wednesday was what he perceived as a lack of effort.

"I wasn't happy with (any) of our young guys," Hunter said. "It wasn't about mistakes they made. It was about effort. It was about fight, having a sense of urgency. This is unacceptable."

The Suns - already without Marcin Gortat for the rest of the season due to a Lisfranc sprain - saw another big man go down against the Wizards. Jermaine O'Neal had to be helped to the locker room late in the game because of a strained left calf.

If O'Neal is out, Phoenix will likely have to lean more heavily on Luis Scola inside. Scola has come off the bench the last four games after starting 43 straight, but he's averaging 18.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in his last 12 games against Minnesota.

These teams have split two meetings this season, including an 84-83 overtime victory for Phoenix at home Feb. 26. That's one of 13 straight road losses against West opponents for Minnesota.