With the All-Star break behind them, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Hornets return to regular-season competition on Friday when they meet in Minneapolis.
For the host Timberwolves, Friday's contest is a home opportunity before they embark on an important, four-game road swing beginning Sunday. Minnesota faces each of the NBA's California teams on the trip, with three them of currently in position to qualify for the postseason.
The Timberwolves return from the break in position for the play-in round. They stand eighth in the Western Conference and just a half-game out of sixth-place -- but only 1 1/2 games ahead of Utah, the last team out of the play-in picture in the West.
Minnesota readies for this stretch still adjusting to lineup changes after moving D'Angelo Russell to the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of the trade deadline in a deal that brought veteran Mike Conley from the Jazz to the Timberwolves.
Conley scored nine and 12 points in his first two games, respectively, with Minnesota, and also dished nine assists in the second contest, a win over Dallas. In the Timberwolves' final game before the break, however, Conley shot 0-for-6 from the floor and was scoreless in over 33 minutes during a loss to Washington.
The final six weeks of the regular season promise more roster adjustments for Minnesota, including the potential reintegration of Karl-Anthony Towns into the lineup. Sidelined since Nov. 30 with a calf injury, The Athletic reported on Feb. 17 that Towns could return for the final 10-to-15 games of the campaign.
In the meantime, All-Star Anthony Edwards remains the focal point for Minnesota. Edwards averages a team-best 24.9 points per game, and has played in all 61 contests this season.
"I take pride in trying to play every game," Edwards said at All-Star media day on Saturday. He added, "if you (are) 80 percent, you gotta play."
The third-year standout Edwards went into All-Star weekend scoring 31 points or more in three of his last four games, including 34 the last time out vs. Washington.
Edwards scored 25 points in the last meeting with Charlotte back on Nov. 25, a game in which the Hornets were without their own sensation from the same 2020 draft class, LaMelo Ball.
Ball beat out Edwards for the 2020-21 season's Rookie of the Year award, and he is currently Charlotte's leader in points and assists per game with 23.3 and 8.4, respectively. He finished out the Hornets' final two games before the break with 30 points, 15 assists and six rebounds in a win over the Atlanta Hawks and 28 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
"We didn't wanna be on our break with a bad (loss)," Ball said to Bally Sports following the victory, Charlotte's second straight. "Love what I'm seeing right now."
The Hornets have the second-to-worst record in the Eastern Conference coming out of the break and are 11 1/2 games out of the final play-in spot. However, a win in Minnesota extends Charlotte's winning streak to three games -- a mark the Hornets have not reached yet this season.
The current stretch is the fourth two-game winning streak of the campaign for Charlotte.
--Field Level Media