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Wolves Use First Half Magic to Beat Orlando, 123-107

Wolves avoid another epic third quarter collapse and earn a much-needed victory, snapping a three-game losing streak. 

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

To say this win was much-needed would be an understatement.

The Minnesota Timberwolves garnered constant national media attention leading up to the season. Pundits dubbed the Wolves as the next big thing, and some even predicted the team to win 50 games. Expectations soared to an uncomfortable level.

And the team responded with a 1-5 start against a rather mediocre slate of opponents, despite ranking 11th in the NBA with a positive net rating of 1.6.

So, yeah, this 123-107 win over the Orlando Magic to wrap up the three-game road trip was definitely needed.

Minnesota opened the game scorching hot offensively. It was as if the Wolves were able to hand pick the shots they wanted — and they converted them. They finished the first quarter 13-for-22 from the field overall and 5-for-7 from beyond the arc in the first quarter. More of the same continued in the second quarter, as the Wolves notched shooting totals of 17-for-31 from the field and 9-for-13 from deep in the first half. At the half, the Wolves led by a 74-47 margin.

Then the third quarter arrived.

And for awhile, it looked like everything was going to come crashing down again. Orlando managed a 14-4 run to open the second half and eventually decrease the deficit to just 15 points.

Fortunately, the Wolves were able to fight the third quarter plague from spreading any further. Multiple tough baskets from Andrew Wiggins helped increase the lead back to 22 points by the end of the third.

Orlando was able to piece together a 19-6 run early in the fourth quarter to squeeze the deficit, but Zach LaVine put that to rest quickly by scoring nine points in short order to put the nails in the coffin.

The young trio of Wiggins, LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns put together their most efficient scoring performance of the season, combining to score 86 points on 31-for-56 from the field and 10-for-16 from three-point range.

As a whole, the offense flowed the way coach Tom Thibodeau hoped it would. Execution on set plays was rock solid. The passing looked much better than in past games as the team recorded 27 assists on 45 made shots. Sometimes to a fault, players made the extra pass whenever possible.

Defensively, the Wolves struggled at times handling Nikola Vucevic in the paint, who led Orlando with 24 points on 11-for-19 from the field and 14 rebounds. His physicality in the paint both scoring the basketball and on the glass caused a few issues for Minnesota’s big men.

The story of the game, however, is Minnesota’s efficiency on offense. LaVine set career highs with 37 points and seven made three-pointers (on nine attempts). Wiggins posted his second big scoring night in a row, but was more efficient than he was in Brooklyn by netting 29 points on 10-for-18 from the field and 2-for-4 from beyond the arc. Gorgui Dieng also flashed some offensive prowess, converting on six of nine field goal attempts for 12 points and an utter posterization of Serge Ibaka after a deceptive pump fake to fool Vucevic.

Without a doubt, this was Minnesota’s best offensive performance of the season. And maybe more importantly, the Wolves avoided the epic third quarter collapse that has haunted them so often already this season.

The win gives some momentum to the Wolves as they enter a four-game homestand that includes a couple of tricky opponents. Whether this sparks a win streak is yet to be seen, but if the Wolves put the ball in the hoop as efficiently as they did tonight, it will be difficult for any team to beat them.

Quick Notes

  • Thibodeau continues to look to Tyus Jones instead of Kris Dunn to take the majority of minutes at the point guard spot in the place of Ricky Rubio — and Jones is filling in nicely. For the second straight game, Jones has orchestrated the offense like a seasoned veteran while showing vast improvement on the defensive end. While Dunn got the start, he only played 17 minutes to Jones’ 30.
  • Minnesota only received scoring from two bench players -- Jones and Shabazz Muhammad. Jones contributed 10 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals while Muhammad added his usual aggressive scoring with 13 points in 19 minutes. Nemanja Bjelica and Cole Aldrich were scoreless in seven and 11 minutes of action, respectively.
  • After recording two straight double-doubles to begin the season, Dieng went four straight games without reaching the plateau until tonight’s 12-point, 11-rebound performance.
  • Towns tallied 40 minutes of action tonight, and it’s worth noting that Thibodeau is notorious for running his players into the ground with a ton of minutes. KAT didn’t seem affected by it — he scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds — but it’s something to keep an eye on as the season progresses. Most coaches would rather not play their generational franchise player 40 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back.
  • Wiggins has faced criticism for a few areas of his game throughout his career. So far in his third season, the former Jayhawk is showing remarkable improvement in at least two of those areas — perimeter shooting and passing. Through seven games now, Wiggins has converted 63.6 percent (14-of-22) of three-point tries. Additionally, his six assists tonight point to his progression as a passer, something that will only elevate this offense even further.
  • The Wolves converted 13 of their 23 attempts (56 percent) from beyond the arc, including three of four from the corner. Minnesota is now leading the NBA in three-point percentage, just like everyone predicted.