MINNEAPOLIS – After handing the Atlanta Hawks their second loss of the season in a surprise road win on Monday the Wolves returned to Target Center searching for their first home victory of the year.
Shortly before tip off the team announced that Andrew Wiggins would sit out due a sore right knee, effectively ending his iron man streak of 88 consecutive starts to begin his NBA career. Bad news to start the night indeed, as Wiggins found his stride in wins over Chicago (31 points) and Atlanta (33 points) after opening the season with four forgettable performances.
Wiggins played a season-high 38 minutes last night against the Hawks and no injuries were reported after the game, but apparently his knee was sore enough to hold him out.
To make matters even worse, Ricky Rubio was ruled out shortly thereafter with a sore left knee, heavily stacking the odds against the Wolves on a back-to-back without two of the cornerstones that give them a fighting chance. Kevin Garnett also sat out (rest) for the first time this season, but that came as no surprise as he isn't expected to play in any back-to-backs.
"It happened right before the game, we knew they were kind of banged up a little bit, but we thought maybe with some treatment and getting them out on the court to warm up they could go," Sam Mitchell said. "But they didn't feel like they could go, so that's just how it is sometimes."
The Wolves jumped out of the gates early, leading 21-12 midway through the first, but Charlotte used 17 free throw attempts (hitting 14 of those) to take the 32-31 lead after one. Entering the fourth, down by five, there seemed to be hope for an unlikely win. But Charlotte had other plans. The Hornets started the final quarter on a 6-0 run to go up 91-80 with ten minutes remaining.
Karl-Anthony Towns did his best to keep the Wolves alive, nailing a smooth 21-foot jumper and hitting two free throws the next possession after drawing a shooting foul on Spencer Hawes to cut the score to 97-91, but ultimately Charlotte handed the Wolves the 104-95 loss to keep them winless at home (0-3) to start the 2015-16 season.
The "Jeremy's" (Lamb and Lin) were huge off the bench, combining for 21 ponts on 8-11 shooting in the second quarter alone. The duo finished with 37 points (14-21) and the Wolves guards had no answer for them throughout the night.
Given the circumstances – playing without three starters – nobody should be surprised with the loss. The Wolves exercised caution by holding out Wiggins and Rubio with a long season still ahead, and this was the product of that caution. As of now, both players should be viewed as day-to-day in advance of Thursday's nationally televised home game against the Warriors (TNT).
"We had three starters not playing tonight," Mitchell said. "My concern was trying to get the other guys ready to play and when that happens 40 minutes before the game, you're kind of crunched for time."
On the bright side, Karl-Anthony Towns was stellar once again. The rookie phenom had 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in 30 minutes of action. It was his sixth straight game with at least three blocked shots; only Darko Milicic (6 games) and Eddie Griffin (7 games) have tallied streaks of 6+ games with 3+ blocks in franchise history. This season, Towns ranks fourth in the NBA with 3.0 blocks per game.
"When I found out, I knew that tonight I had to go out there and produce at a high level," Towns said. "With two great players in Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins not playing, coming off the two 30+ point games, I tried to go out tonight and contribute as much as possible on both ends of the basketball court."
"I came up short," Towns continued, holding himself to the unbelievably high standards he sets. "I did as much as I thought I could possibly do, but games like this when you're missing two star players you have to step it up to another level and I wasn't able to do that tonight."
Zach LaVine started in place of Rubio at point guard. He added 20 points, eight rebounds, and five assists, but turned the ball over eight times; teeter-tottering between flashes of brilliance and his customary brand of sloppy execution when asked to run an NBA offense.
In the end, this is what it looks like to play without two of the team's three essential ingredients.
Towns finished with his fifth double-double in seven games. He's now tied for third with Kevin Love and Blake Griffin in double-doubles (Drummond and Westbrook, also known as the "Point God," each have posted seven).
- Towns on playing against Al Jefferson: "You're talking about one of the best offensive big mans in the league. I knew I had to come and bring my A-game on defense. I just went out there and made it very hard for him to do a lot of his funky moves and as you say, he's very crafty, so just make sure I take up space of his and do a lot of things that I've been doing for years at Kentucky, but also taking the teachings of KG to make sure that I make it hard on him."
- Zach LaVine recorded his 11th career 20+ point performance tonight.
- Wolves finished 9-of-19 from three-point range tonight, led by Nemanja Bjelica off the bench with three triples. Bjelica finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, his third straight double-digit scoring effort.
- Adreian Payne made his first start of the season in place of KG, scoring 10 points on 4-5 shooting (2-2 from three). Payne added five rebounds and a steal in a season-high 20+ minutes. He deserves credit for his performance tonight.
- Charlotte improves to 14-4 in its last 18 meetings with Minnesota.
- Hornets reserves stepped up tonight, outscoring the Wolves bench 57-23. Cody Zeller added 14 points and six rebounds.
- Wolves dominated the glass, 48-34, but lost the battle at the free throw line (27 attempts to 19) and coughed up 22 turnovers to Charlotte's 16.
- Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng both looked out of sync in their roles tonight and that's something to keep a close eye on in the next few games. The two desperately need to find some consistency (though that's probably easier said than done given the fluctuations in playing time).
- There were enough travels called, a point of emphasis around the league, to elicit the following tweet (thankfully I can't be fined for complaining about the number of traveling calls):
Going to start a tumblr quick of all the PFT's (pump fake travels) in this game. I've never seen so many traveling violations called.— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) November 11, 2015