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The Minnesota Timberwolves announced that big man Karl-Anthony Towns had surgery to repair his torn meniscus on Tuesday and will miss at least the next four weeks. He is scheduled to be re-evaluated during the final week of the NBA regular season. When it was originally reported that Towns would undergo surgery, it was expected that Towns would return at some point early in the Western Conference playoffs.

While Towns could return by early in the playoffs, that isn't a foregone conclusion. Everything from a health standpoint would need to line up in order for that to be a reality. Should Towns end up missing the remainder of the season, including the playoffs, it would be a significant blow to the Wolves' chances of advancing deep in the playoffs. Towns was averaging 22.1 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists this season and was a significant reason why Minnesota was experiencing so much success alongside Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert. 

After playing in only 29 games in 2022-23 due to a calf injury, Towns has missed just two games so far in 2023-24. Both times, forward Kyle Anderson started in his place. Anderson was effective next to Rudy Gobert last season, and this lineup configuration allows the Wolves to continue to bring big man Naz Reid off the bench.

Reid is one of the NBA's best reserves, and Gobert-Reid lineups have outscored opponents by 14 points per 100 possessions, thanks to an incredibly stingy defense. Most of this work has been done against reserves, though, and the Timberwolves cannot replace what Towns does offensively.

With Towns on the court, Minnesota has scored at a slightly above-average rate, and with its starting lineup (Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Towns and Gobert) on the court, it has been elite at both ends. With Towns off the court, it has scored 106.1 points per 100 possessions, which is worse than the 30th-ranked Memphis Grizzlies' offense. (That number is a little better – 111.1 per 100 – according to Cleaning The Glass, which removes garbage-time minutes. But it is still the equivalent of a bottom-five offense.)

For however long Towns is out, Edwards, the Wolves' leading scorer, will have a bigger offensive burden and less space to operate. Conley's usage rate – currently a career-low 14.7% – will likely rise, too, and McDaniels may get more opportunities to make plays. On Wednesday, Minnesota signed 30-year-old forward T.J. Warren to a 10-day contract. If the veteran can provide some scoring punch at the 4 spot off the bench, he could stick around. Without Towns, the Wolves need all the help they can get on that end.

Three of the Wolves' 20 remaining games (March 19, March 29, April 10) are against the defending champion Denver Nuggets, who moved one game ahead of them in the standings to take the No. 2 seed. At full strength, Minnesota presents some problems for Denver, as it can put Towns on Nikola Jokic, have Gobert roam off Aaron Gordon and throw McDaniels and Edwards at Jamal Murray. With Towns not available for those games, expect Reid to play heavy minutes.

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