Timberwolves at Hawks
Recent cold snaps by the Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves have knocked them out of comfortable spots in their respective conferences. Both clubs will look to begin a turnaround as they face off in a rare Monday afternoon tilt in Atlanta. The Hawks recently contended for a top-3 seed in the Eastern Conference but are mired in a 2-8 tailspin. The Timberwolves also opened the season on a positive note but are now outside the West playoff picture after dropping 11 of 16.
Monday marks the second of two meetings this season, with Minnesota prevailing 108-103 in their first encounter Jan. 8. Nikola Pekovic enjoyed one of the best games of his career in the victory, racking up 25 points and 18 rebounds. Pekovic won't play in the series finale after suffering a thigh contusion that will keep him out of the lineup for another week. It's the latest in a stunning series of injuries for the Timberwolves, who are missing six rotation players - most notably All-Star forward Kevin Love.
TV: 2 p.m. ET, SportSouth (Atlanta)
ABOUT THE TIMBERWOLVES (17-20): Of any team on a cold snap, Minnesota probably has the best excuse. With the frontcourt decimated by injury, the Timberwolves were forced to press D-League big man Chris Johnson into action on a 10-day contract. Johnson responded with 15 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes as the Timberwolves defeated the Houston Rockets 92-79 last time out. The offensive burden appears to have fallen on small forward Andrei Kirilenko, who finished with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting with 11 boards against the Rockets. Kirilenko, back in the NBA after a one-year respite in Russia, is having a strong campaign with 13.9 points on a career-best 51.9 percent from the field.
ABOUT THE HAWKS (22-18): Atlanta's biggest blow of the season came Friday when veteran guard Lou Williams was lost for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Williams, who joined the Hawks as a free agent last summer, averaged 14.1 points and 3.6 assists as Atlanta's best reserve. "I just pray for him," teammate Jeff Teague told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Hopefully it’s a speedy recovery. It is tough losing a guy like that coming off the bench and getting points in bunches." Things worsened over the weekend after Devin Harris went down with an ankle sprain against San Antonio, leaving Teague as the Hawks' only healthy point guard.
1. Minnesota's win earlier this month ended an 11-game losing skid against Atlanta dating back to 2006.
2. Kirilenko averages 12.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 20 career games against the Hawks.
3. Atlanta F Josh Smith is averaging 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in two games since returning from a one-game team-imposed suspension.
PREDICTION: Hawks 101, Timberwolves 95.