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Jahlil Okafor makes home debut as Nets host Wolves

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NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

New year, new Nets? On the first day of the year (and second leg of a back-to-back), Brooklyn played host to the Orlando Magic. The game was close throughout and the Nets pulled it out late.

The opponent this evening will be the Minnesota Timverwolves. After a busy offseason, the Wolves came into the year hoping to make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. They’ve won eight out of their last ten games, including Monday’s game against the Lakers. They’ve got one more on the road before heading back home for a five game homestand.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 7:30.

Injuries

Caris LeVert (left groin strain) is doubtful. DeMarre Carroll (sore rib) is questionable. How doubtful is LeVert? Isaiah Whitehead, on assignment with Long Island, didn’t play Tuesday night in a G-League contest vs. the Austin Spurs in Long Island. Saving him for a last minute call-up?

Jeff Teague is out.

The game

Caris Levert has been outstanding in recent weeks, and will face a great test tonight. Jimmy Butler has been sensational and as Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated notes:

The best way to appreciate what makes Butler's season special is to remember all the ways the Wolves are relatively ordinary. Karl Towns hasn't gotten any better on defense and it's still unclear whether the Wolves know how to use him on offense. Andrew Wiggins is as effective as his jumpshot, which is to say his impact varies from week to week as he learns how to help in other ways. The bench isn't any better than it's been in past years, and it might be worse. Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson have been decent and they've definitely helped stabilize the lineups that Tom Thibodeau is putting out there, but like everything else in Minnesota, a team that relies heavily on Teague and Gibson doesn't exactly scream "elite in the West." The Wolves should be good, but given the slower progression from their young stars, they have no business being the fourth-best team in the West. But that's where Jimmy Butler changes the equation.

Butler doesn’t have a usage rate similar to his Chicago years, but that was to be expected. That said, he still leads the team in scoring and is shooting a career best 47.4 percent from the field. His defense might be most important and in a conference with guys like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Russell Westbrook, Butler’s ability to play lockdown defense will prove to be incredibly valuable for Tom Thibodeau. Back to Levert, he’s been able to contribute in a variety of ways and the more high pressure minutes he plays along with increased playmaking opportunities, the better he makes the team.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of Andrew Wiggins. When you watch him, you can clearly see the talent that made him the number one pick in the 2014 Draft. However, it doesn’t show in the numbers. He’s shooting a career low 43.1 percent from the field and most curiously, a career low 62.5 percent from the free throw line. For Allen Crabbe, the job will be to keep Wiggins on the perimeter. Crabbe feels that his defense doesn’t get enough love, so locking down Wiggins (and Butler when he’s matched up against him) will help people wake up.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn native Taj Gibson is doing well in Thibs system. He’s averaging a career-high 33.6 minutes. His scoring (12.0) is the second best of his career. His rebounding (8.0), shooting (57.6 percent) and steals (0.8) are career highs, as is his 124.0 offensive rating.

Player to watch: Karl Anthony Towns

There are two ways to look at KAT. The first is to acknowledge how great he is on offense. KAT is shooting a career best 40.6 percent from deep and when you combine that with his ball handling, athleticism and low-post scoring ability, you have one of the most impossible covers in the league. The second is to wonder whether he’ll ever live up to expectations on defense. There have been plenty of moments where he’s looked completely lost on that side of the ball and the Wolves defense hasn’t been as good as we expected two years into Thibodeau’s tenure there. There’s still time for them to improve, but the early returns aren’t promising.

Jahlil Okafor will make his home debut tonight. He hasn’t seen game action since December 15 when he played 23 minutes against Toronto. Since then, he’s been working on conditioning and adding a few things to better fit in with Kenny Atkinson’s plans. There hasn’t been any indication of how long he’ll be on the court tonight. Jarrett Allen will see a lot of time to help keep Towns in check. Allen has shined as he’s gotten more playing time and looks incredibly comfortable when he shares the court with Levert.

From the Vault

No fancy setup here. I just feel like hearing some Mint Condition

More reading: Canis Hoopus