When Jimmy Butler went down last Friday with a right meniscus injury, the general consensus from around the league was that the Wolves, currently third in the Western Conference but only 4 games ahead of the ninth place Los Angeles Clippers, would be in for a significant uphill climb over the next 4-6 weeks.
While the mood outside the Target Center was fairly pessimistic, the attitude within the Wolves locker room was much more upbeat and positive, led by the Wolves oldest starter and Butler’s running mate from their years in Chicago:
Taj on winning without Butler “We have more than enough, everyone in here is a pro. We just have to come together and keep playing hard. We’ve been in this position before and I think we’re more than capable.”— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) February 26, 2018
The Wolves did indeed have more than enough Monday night as they stormed the castle and overthrew the Kings, 118-100. Led by a trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Jeff Teague, the Wolves notched their second straight win since losing their fearless, bucket-getting leader.
If you missed last night’s contest, you missed yet another dominant performance from the Wolves All-Star center. Towns feasted on the Kings’ small and in-experienced front line, pouring in 26 points on 9-10 shooting and grabbing 17 rebounds in 39 minutes, one less rebound than all five Kings starters had in a combined 156 minutes.
Coming off a “trash” 22/13 performance against the Bulls (his words, not mine), Towns rebounded nicely (literally and figuratively) against the Kings, attaching the paint all night and delivering moments like the one below on his way to league-leading 54th double-double of the season:
While KAT was his usual dominant self, he did get plenty of help from his teammates, specifically the Wolves starting backcourt. Andrew Wiggins matched his jersey number with 22 points on 53% shooting, including 5-6 from the charity stripe (the six free throws were the most he’s attempted since January 22nd against the Clippers).
As for Teague, he rounded things out nicely with 20 points himself, his fifth consecutive game of 15+ points. Overall, Teague has looked like his old (young?) Atlanta self since returning from the All-Star break, and his ability to push the pace and get easy buckets in transition will be even more crucial as the Wolves navigate a brutal upcoming eight-game stretch, including games against Portland, Utah, Boston, Golden State, Washington, San Antonio, Houston and the Clippers (woof).
Finally, you can’t recap last night’s victory without mentioning the Serbian thief himself, Nemanja Bjelica. Belly’s box score might not jump out at you, but his defense was a major spark in the third quarter as the Wolves outscored the Kings 34-17. Bjelica finished one steal, two assists, and five blocks shy of his first career 5x5, and most importantly looked comfortable stretching the floor and assisting Towns on the glass. With Butler out 4-6 weeks, Belly’s ability to provide consistent production may be the Wolves biggest key to maintaining their place in the wild, wild West(ern Conference).
As for the Kings, De’Aaron looked as fast as advertised and Skal Labissiere, who led the Kings with 20 points, displayed an extremely polished offensive game despite being only 21-years old. Buddy Hield, maybe the most well-known King, added in 16 points on 7-15 shooting, while the MVP of the Rising Skills game (Bogdan Bogdanovic) made a few shots (11 points) and connected on a few passes (6 assists), but overall was fairly invisible in his 33 minutes on the court.
Overall, it was a much-needed blowout win for one team with playoff aspirations and a great learning lesson for another team hoping to climb out of the Western Conference’s cellar sooner than later. Talent and experience wins in the NBA, and while the Wolves were without their fearless leader Jimmy Butler, they still had “more than enough.”
Towns - 26 PTS | 17 REB | 4 AST— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) February 27, 2018
Wiggins - 22 PTS | 2 AST
Teague - 20 PTS | 4 REB | 7 AST
Solid team effort! Highlights ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/YMXkHzBUY0
Other Game Notes
- Minnesota dominated Sacramento at the foul line last night, outscoring the Kings 33-12.
- The Wolves connected on only 7-16 attempts from beyond the arc, snapping a two-game streak of making 10+ three-pointers. The team is currently 14-3 when they connect on ten or more three-pointers.
- Gorgui Dieng played well in 22-minutes off the bench, his most minutes since January 8th against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Dieng had 10 points, 6 rebounds, and zero pump-fake-oh-no-that’s-a-massive-travel.
- The Wolves now lead the all-time series against the Kings 57-53. Minnesota’s 57 wins against the Kings are the franchise’s most against any team (h/t Timberwolves PR).