MINNEAPOLIS — One of the best qualities of the 2017-18 Minnesota Timberwolves is their ability to avoid losing streaks. They’re a resilient bunch. Dropping back-to-back games seems to be enough of a wake-up call for this group, having not lost three straight at any point, a rarity in the history of Minnesota basketball.
On Saturday night, returning home after dropping West Coast games against the Blazers and Warriors, the Wolves kept the streak alive in the 111-97 win over Brooklyn. What does this say about them? Does it reveal anything about their makeup?
“We’re mentally tough,” said Jamal Crawford, after leading the Wolves bench in scoring with 16 points (6-13) in 20 minutes. “I think we lose a couple, we get on ourselves, we look in the mirror, we make adjustments, then we bounce back.”
In his return from a four game absence, due to a sore right knee, Jimmy Butler said he felt “like a bum” on the court. In that case, Thibodeau and Layden should trade for more bums next summer.
The comment was mostly a result of his rough shooting night (4-14) but it also acts as another example of the extremely high standards Butler holds everyone in that locker room to, including himself.
“Couldn’t buy a basket, but hey, there’s other ways to change the game so I’ll be alright,” said Butler, relaxing with his feet kicked up on the chair to his left. “Go get some work in tomorrow, come out firing again.”
Butler would never admit it, but even in the midst of a poor shooting night he still positively effected the game on both ends of the floor and always gives the Wolves that extra edge they’ve missed for so long. He finished with 21 points, 6 boards, 5 assists, two steals and was +10.
“The intensity is so much different,” Thibodeau said about Butler’s performance, after missing four straight contests. “I thought the first game back, he made a lot of plays. When the game was in the balance, he made big play after big play.”
Butler might have looked a little tired at times, but his knee didn’t appear to hold him back. As for avoiding the first three-game losing streak of the season, he also appreciates the team’s ability to evade long skids that could send them spiraling down the Western Conference standings.
“I like that,” said Butler.
“Nobody wants to lose two in a row, damn sure not three in a row when one of them is at home. I think that when we guard, when we get stops, do what we’re supposed to do, we’re a really really good team. Nobody’s ever questioned how many points that we can score or how our offense is. It’s always on the defensive end.”
Butler: “Wiggs is phenomenal at putting the ball in the basket so any time he gets a chance to do that, that’s what we want. Attacking in transition, in the post, obviously. He’s in a groove right now. We need him to continue to do that; be as assertive as possible.”— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) January 28, 2018
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In their 32nd win of the season, surpassing last year’s total, the Wolves extended their home winning streak to ten in a row at Target Center. (That was a satisfying sentence to type out given how many losing recaps Canis has produced over the years.) It’s the team’s longest single-season home winning streak since 14 straight home victories from Dec. 16, 2003-Feb. 6, 2004.
WIGGINS IS IN A GROOVE
Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points, his fourth game in the last five leading the team in scoring (tied with Butler tonight). With Butler sidelined, the higher usage Wiggins showed up in a very positive way when the team needed him to carry the load. Wiggins’ performance, with the Wolves’ All-Star wing back in the lineup, was also encouraging to see. His on-ball defense was suffocating at times.
Brooklyn’s wings frustratingly moved the ball after trying to drive on a brick wall that, excitingly enough, happened to be Wiggins rather than the usual suspect in Butler. He tipped passes, forced a few turnovers, contested threes, switched on screens, helped on the weakside, and genuinely competed hard. In other words, he did a lot of things defensively that most viewers need to see consistently from the man with the max contract that kicks in next season.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen a dad recap or two (text messages from my dad after the games) and that means you will know how important Wiggins’ rebounds are to him. Well, Andrew grabbed five in the contest and that pushes the Wolves’ record to 17-5 this season when he grabs five or more rebounds. Wiggins always seems more engaged all-around when he’s rebounding.
“Wiggs is phenomenal at putting the ball in the basket, so any time he gets a chance to do that, that’s what we want,” said Butler. “Attacking in transition, in the post, obviously. He’s in a groove right now. We need him to continue to do that; be as assertive as possible.”
TYUS AND TEAGUE SPLIT MINUTES
Through his excellent play this season, Tyus Jones has plenty of supporters calling for more minutes. And they’re not wrong at all. He should be getting more tick on a nightly basis given his tremendously positive influence on the court. Look at the numbers on Basketball Reference! Tonight, Jeff Teague seemed a bit off. It was reported after the game that he didn’t play in the fourth due to a sore ankle. Of course, one has to wonder whether or not Teague is now experiencing additional effects of the Achilles soreness and knee injury he’s dealt with this season.
Jones did his job again, ending the night with 13 points on 6-8 shooting with five assists, two rebounds, one steal, and one block in 24 minutes. On the flip side, Teague struggled in his 24 minutes (2p/4a/4r/1s) and didn’t look comfortable. He still doesn’t want to shoot threes like the Wolves need him to (get to chucking them already, Jeff) and he was the passive, over-dribbling point guard that many loathe. That’s not a recipe for the good, $19 million Teague, as seen against the Clippers recently in Los Angeles.
The Teague vs. Tyus conversations will continue for the foreseeable future.
TOWNS’ REBOUNDING + JAHLIL OKAFOR
In his league-leading 43rd double-double of the season, with 16 points and 19 rebounds, Karl-Anthony Towns set a new career-high in offensive rebounds with 10. He destroyed Brooklyn on the glass, creating offense for himself with putback buckets. You could say he was in the business of manufacturing his own touches.
“He’s always active on the boards, that’s huge,” said Butler. “Getting the rebound, putting it in the basket if he can, or kicking it out so we can get around for a fire three, or dagger three, or whatever you want to call it. He’s been huge for us as of late.”
Towns seemed unhappy with his overall performance, perhaps due to 2015 draft class counterpart, and No. 3 overall pick, Jahlil Okafor playing the best game of his tumultuous third NBA season.
“I’m just trying to get better every day,” said Okafor. “Doesn’t mean much. I know the work that I put in, even if it doesn’t always translate to the floor right away.”
The 22-year-old throwback center from Duke scored 21 points (9-14) and grabbed six rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench, hitting Towns with smooth low-post moves before flashing the soft touch around the rim that once had Flip Saunders dreaming about him wearing a Wolves uniform.
“Nah, I ain’t do nothing,” Towns said quietly at his locker stall when asked about his 19 rebounds.
“Our defense, my teammates, playing defense the way they did, that’s the reason we won this game. They were magnificent on the defensive end, that’s why we had the lead a lot all night.”
Minnesota grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, leading to the 27-13 second-chance points advantage over the Nets. The Wolves outrebounded Brooklyn, 49-42. They are 24-4 this season when outrebounding opponents.
The video below pretty much says it all. Kenny Atkinson was livid with referee Tony Brothers...and....he really lost his cool.
Some coaches like Gregg Popovich and Rick Carlisle have been known to get tossed on purpose, to light a fire underneath their team when they’re playing flat, but Atkinson actually seemed legitimately furious with the referee’s foul calls; the Wolves finished with 26 free throw attempts (one of their strengths) to the Nets’ 15.
Kenny Atkinson was ready to square up with the ref pic.twitter.com/6BSBXyXxpz— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 28, 2018
“Yeah, it happens,” Atkinson said.
“You know, just a little frustrated but I’d rather talk about the game really. Obviously, the Timberwolves outplayed us. They’ve got a lot of talent. They hurt us on the boards, I thought we put them on the free throw line too much, that was key. You know, we went small obviously, and it helped our offense, but it hurt our rebounding and you can’t give up all those second opportunities.”
Nik Stauskas finished the night with 15 points on 5-10 shooting but was asked to guard Wiggins at times...and...that didn’t work out well for Nik. Rookie center Jarrett Allen was crushed by KAT on his way to 10 points, five rebounds, and a game-worst -22. I still think he’s a strong prospect for the Nets. He will be getting buckets and blocking shots for a long time in this league.
Spencer Dinwiddie had 10 assists but wasn’t aggressively looking for his shot (3-9) like the first time around when he carried Brooklyn to the home win over the Wolves (remember those late buckets over Taj Gibson?). DeMarre Carroll had 12 points and six rebounds.
Any potential playoff team looking for wing depth might be wise to call about 41% three-point shooter Joe Harris. Harris is posting a career-high .105 WS/48 and shooting better than ever before. Maybe it’s a fluke. Maybe this is a contract/career year? Maybe he’s found the perfect role to thrive in under Atkinson and wouldn’t be the same anywhere else?
Harris is set to hit free agency this summer and that might make Brooklyn, depending on their plans, pretty willing to deal him for a protected draft pick since their window is still pretty far off in the distance and this might be the best Harris ever produces. He’s a sell-high candidate.
MORE WINS THAN LAST YEAR