A new year means new hope for good health and good fortune for both the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics, who are happy to put 2018 behind them.
Both teams closed out the year with disappointing losses on New Year's Eve and get a chance to start 2019 off right when they tip off at TD Garden in Boston on Wednesday night. Boston will be trying to sweep the season series after winning 118-109 in Minnesota on Dec. 1.
Even though they have won three of their last five games, the Timberwolves slogged through a tumultuous first three months of the season and at 17-20 sit 13th in the Western Conference.
Karl-Anthony Towns has carried the Timberwolves during the past four games, averaging 28.3 points, 18.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 3.5 blocks.
Against the Celtics, Towns and Taj Gibson will have to carry more of load with guards Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose doubtful with ankle injuries.
But head coach Tom Thibodeau said everyone must step against the Celtics with Teague and Rose unlikely to play.
"It's discipline. Everyone's got to do their job," Thibodeau told the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. "We can't pick and choose when we're going to do things."
And despite the Timberwolves' lackluster performance so far, there remains a lot of optimism in Minnesota.
"I'm always going to keep the faith," Gibson told the media recently. "Everybody in the West is still bunched up. We still have a shot, but we got to turn it around right away."
The Celtics have the same sense of urgency after losing five of eight and realizing they have serious issues on defense.
But there is good news, as their postseason chances might have dodged a bullet on New Year's Eve.
Kyrie Irving suffered a scratched retina in his left eye in the 120-111 loss to the Spurs when he and Marco Bellini collided going for a rebound, but he may not miss any time at all.
"He smacked the (expletive) out of me," Irving, while wearing sunglasses, told the Boston Globe after the game. "He caught me pretty good."
Head coach Brad Stevens was unsure of Irving's status for the Minnesota game, but most likely if he does play, Irving will be wearing goggles.
Irving, who is averaging 23.1 points and 6.6 assists is listed as a game-time decision.
Stevens understands that Irving's injury could have been worse. The other thing he knows? The Celtics won't win many games playing defense the way they did in the second half against the Spurs.
Boston led 65-60 with 6:51 left in the third quarter when the Spurs went on a 21-2 run in barely three minutes. San Antonio scored 46 points in the period, the franchise's highest single-quarter point total in 25 years.
"A 46-point third quarter, you're going to get beat," Stevens said after the game. "It started with them physically overpowering us, getting to the rim clearly like a mindset of 'We're going to go the rim and make you stop us.'"
The Celtics are thin up front without Aron Baynes (broken hand), which could mean a big game for the Timberwolves' frontline of Towns, Gibson and Robert Covington.
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