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Prediction of the Timberwolves vs. Suns series, matchups

NBA Playoffs: Timberwolves vs. Suns

Best-of-seven, Western Conference quarterfinals

Game 1: 2:30 PM Saturday, Target Center (ESPN)

Game 2: 6:30 PM Tuesday, Target Center (TNT)

Game 3: 9:30 PM Friday, Phoenix (ESPN)

Game 4: 8:30 PM April 28, Phoenix (TNT)

Game 5: time TBD April 30, Target Center (if necessary)

Game 6: time to be announced May 2, Phoenix (if necessary)

Game 7: time to be announced: May 4, Target Center (if necessary)

WOLVES REGULAR SEASON

56-26, third in the Western Conference and one game behind top-seeded Oklahoma City and second-seeded Denver. They went from competing for No. 1 on the final day of the season to a third-place finish and a 3-6 draw with Phoenix after losing 125-106 at home to the Suns in the finals.

NBA Ratings: offense 15th (116.6), defense 1st (109.9), net rating 3 (6.65)

Key number

5: Despite finishing as the third seed, the Wolves led the league in the advanced defensive division for 155 days – or all but five days this season.

SUNBATHING REGULAR SEASON

They won their last three games, six of their last eight and ten of their last fourteen to finish 49-33 and in sixth place in the West. Their win Sunday at Target Center, combined with New Orleans’ home loss to the Lakers, lifted the Suns past the Pelicans, setting up this 3-6 rematch of Sunday’s game.

NBA Ratings: offense, 8th (118.8), defense 13th (115.7), net rating 8th (3.09)

Key number

10-1: Suns record when veteran reserve guard Eric Gordon scores 20 or more points off the bench.

INDIVIDUAL COMPETITIONS

Point guard

Mike Conley, Wolves: Young, explosive Anthony Edwards shares ball-handling duties, but Conley, at 36, now becomes the steady veteran hand who has played 78 playoff games with the Wolves, Utah and Memphis. His teams are 37-41 in those games and he has averaged 15.8 points, 6.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds. Coach Chris Finch wants him to be more aggressive offensively now that it’s time for the playoffs. But he can also be a defensive mismatch.

Bradley Beal, Suns: He may not be a natural point guard, but he plays one. On Sunday, he went 6-for-6 on threes, 14-for-21 overall, had six rebounds, five assists, two steals, one turnover and his defense held Anthony Edwards to 13 points. Suns coach Frank Vogel calls him “One of the best players in the world.” Think of him as an older, more mature Ant.

Edge: Sun tanning

Shooting guard

Anthony Edwards, Wolves: Only LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson reached 2,000 points, 400 rebounds and 400 assists in a regular season at a younger age than Edwards in 2023-24 (James did that three times). Finch has praised Edwards’ improved willingness to move the ball more, but the pressure of the play-offs will be the ultimate test. Beal’s defense limited him on Sunday, but he gets the edge here because of his defense on the ball.

Devin Booker, Suns: Once the Suns star Booker is now almost a third option next to Durant and Beal. But what an option: he averages 27.1 points and shoots 36.3% from three. He is also a three-time All-Star and 2022 All-NBA first teamer, the Suns’ first since Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire in 2007.

Edge: Wolves

Small forward

Jaden McDaniels, Wolves: He signed a five-year extension worth $136 million last fall for his size and defense, but the Wolves will need his offense — namely his three-point shooting — in this series. He shot 2-for-7 on Sunday with one 3-pointer and scored six points.

Grayson Allen, Suns: He’s important enough that the Suns signed him to a four-year, $70 million contract extension on Tuesday. The former Dukie and sixth-year professional shooter with his fourth team leads the league with a three-point percentage (46.1). He could be the Suns’ X-factor while the Wolves focus elsewhere. He tied the Suns’ record for most threes in a season by making three nines in a game this year. Don’t leave him alone, which is a tall order with the Suns’ top three scorers.

Edge: Sun tanning

Power forward

Karl-Anthony Towns, Wolves: He has started and played 27 and 29 minutes in his return after 18 games away healing from knee surgery, with mixed results. He made a few clutch threes but was what Finch called “super rusty.” The jury is out on whether the ball moves as well with him as it does without him. Does Finch keep him as a starter and try to find his feet again or bring him off the bench behind Nickeil Alexander-Walker or Naz Reid, depending on how big or small the Suns become?

Kevin Durant, Suns: Still in his prime, averaging 27.3 ppg in his 16th NBA season, he passed Shaquille O’Neal in March for eighth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, with No. 7 Wilt Chamberlain in sight. He has now made the playoffs 13 times and is 101-65 in 32 playoff series, averaging 29.4 ppg. He has now also reached the NBA Finals four times, winning twice with Golden State in 2017 and ’18.

Edge: Sun tanning

Centre

Rudy Gobert, Wolves: He is the clubhouse leader for his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award and has been dominant for most of the season and the anchor of the NBA’s top-ranked defense. Finch says some players win games, while others make sure you don’t lose: “Rudy is the reason we don’t lose.” The Clippers took him out of a 2021 playoff series by stretching the floor. Can the Suns do the same?

Jusuf Nurkic, Suns: He’s a big body – 7-1, 290 pounds – that the Suns can use to slow Gobert effectively; the Wolves will try to get him out of the game with serious issues. When Nurkic made his fourth foul shortly after halftime on Sunday, Gobert asserted himself and scored 15 points in the third quarter alone.

Edge: Wolves

Bank

Whether Towns stays in his starting spot or whether Alexander-Walker or Reid returns to it after Towns missed 18 games is a big question. Towns offers skill offensively, Alexander-Walker helps when the Suns go small. Reid offers muscle and tenacity and he is a 41.4% three-point shooter to Towns’ 41.8%. The Wolves need him and Alexander-Walker to make threes and produce big.

Sun tanning

Eric Gordon, a 16-year NBA veteran averaging 11.0 ppg in 27 minutes off the bench, is one of 13 new faces added to a remade Phoenix roster this season. Former Wolves first-round draft pick Josh Okogie is averaging 16.2 minutes and 4.6 points off the bench.

Edge: Wolves

Star Tribune forecast

They say it’s hard to beat the same team three times in a season. What about a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh? The sixth-seeded Suns’ Big Three – KD, Booker and Beal – are at their peak, and this might be the last team you want to face in the West right now. Such is the luck of the Wolves after such a breakout season. Sunbathing in six