Two teams that have been tail-spinning into oblivion in their respective playoff races hope to use each other as a springboard back into contention when the Minnesota Timberwolves visit the Orlando Magic on Thursday night.
Neither the Timberwolves (25-28) nor Magic (22-32) would make the playoffs if they began today, and each has a lot of ground to make up with fewer than 30 games remaining in the regular season.
Minnesota won the first meeting between the two, 120-103 at home in January, with Karl-Anthony Towns (29 points, 15 rebounds), Taj Gibson (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Jeff Teague (23 points, 10 assists) all recording double-doubles.
It's unlikely the Magic will see Teague this time around, either because he's still unable to play because of a sore right foot or because he's been dealt at the trade deadline. The Timberwolves have been rumored to be shopping Teague, who has a player option on a $19 million contract for next season.
The fact that reserve Dario Saric played what Towns labeled "his best game of the year" Tuesday at Memphis could make Teague even more expendable.
"Sad enough we had to waste it," Towns insisted to reporters after Saric contributed 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists to the 108-106 loss. "He came out, he was on fire, played amazing, gave us some lift and gave us a chance to win this game."
With or without Teague, the Timberwolves, who have lost two straight and four of five, might have a tough time leaving the Memphis loss in their rear-view mirror. The defeat was the result of a foul called on Josh Okogie with one-tenth of a second remaining in a tie game.
One advantage the Timberwolves would seem to have in the game is the matchup between All-Star centers Towns and Nikola Vucevic. Towns has outscored his rival 70-46 in their last three head-to-heads, with the Timberwolves winning all three.
The Magic have lost five of their last seven games, but it's hard to blame Vucevic. He's recorded double-doubles in six of his last eight outings, missing double-doubles in the other two by one rebound in each.
It's possible the Magic could go into the game with even less of a supporting cast for Vucevic than the one that participated in Tuesday's 132-122 loss at Oklahoma City.
High-scoring reserve Terrence Ross has been rumored to be on several contenders' wish lists at the trade deadline, something with which he has become quite aware.
"As players you don't have any say-so, so there's no point in like stressing about it," Ross told reporters Tuesday night. "You're going to get an opportunity to play. You're going to have to go out there and do what you do regardless, because whether you get traded or not, you're on that team to do a specific job.
"Regardless of if you get traded to a team that needs what you do, or if you stay with the team that needs what you do, you've got to do it at the end of the day. That's what it's all about."
Ross has scored in double figures off the bench in 13 of his last 15 games. He had 13 points, including three 3-pointers, in the loss at Minnesota last month.
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