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3 things to watch as the Dallas Mavericks visit the Minnesota Timberwolves

The bottom two Western teams face off tonight in Minneapolis.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks and the Minnesota Timberwolves are currently locked in a race to the bottom of the Western conference, tied for last place 20 games back of conference (and league) leaders Golden State. Tonight the two teams will meet, giving the victor the chance to take a full game lead on the loser (of course, whether that’s a good thing depends on whether you’re hoping for the eighth seed or a high draft pick).

The teams are both coming off losses followed by a day’s rest and will meet in Minneapolis. So what’s worth watching in this clash of titans?

The Wolves’ young core

It’s been a tough season, and at this point the best way to watch a game (in my opinion) is to try to enjoy the talent on the court, even when it happens to be on the other team.

Second-year center Karl-Anthony Towns is a very good basketball player. He hasn’t quite made the offensive leap some were hoping for his sophomore year, with his true shooting percentage down from 59 percent last year to just over 55 percent this season. But he’s a top-five rebounder and the sort of giant, athletic center who could easily give this team trouble in the paint on both ends of the court.

In addition to Towns, who chips in 21.4 points per game, the Wolves rely on leading scorer Andrew Wiggins (22 points) and perennial dunk contest contestant Zach LaVine (20 points) in a balanced effort from their young core.

If you’ve resolved to worry less about winning and just enjoy the season, it can be a fun group to watch. But of course, for a team staring down the barrel of the lottery, the Wolves’ impressive young players are also a bit of a scary reminder that high draft picks don’t guarantee success...

Offense versus... not great defense

That’s not to say that the Wolves’ haven’t made progress this season, even if they’re not moving up in the rankings yet. All of this youth and athleticism adds up to an impressive offense for a team struggling to win games. Unlike Dallas, who’ve struggled to score all year while showing occasional flashes of defense, the Wolves are all in on offense this season. Their 105.9 points per 100 possessions is good enough for 11th in the league, while their defense ranks 25th.

If Andrew Bogut, the Mavs’ best defender, continues to come off the bench, the Wolves could get off to an early lead against a Mavericks starting lineup that lacks a defensive anchor. Minnesota has scored just over 41 percent of their points in the paint, not a crazy high number, but it’s better than most team and something the Mavs may not be well equipped to defend.

Dallas’ veteran savvy

Despite Minnesota’s offensive talent and exciting young core, Dallas is simply a savvier team. Their records may be identical, but Dallas sank to the bottom in part because of a rash of injuries, some of which they’re slowly starting to come back from. Minnesota’s losses have come during a relatively healthy season.

And January may not be off to a great start for Dallas (1-2), but it’s been downright brutal to the Timberwolves, who’ve lost all four of their games in 2017, including one to the Sixers. As Kirk wrote earlier this month, tonight’s game is a toss-up that should probably favor the Mavs.

How to watch

Tonight’s game tips off at 7:00pm Central on FSSW. You can watch via NBA League Pass outside of the Dallas area.