From the moment the first whistle blew in Target Center, it was clear the Minnesota Timberwolves had arrived with a different energy to the one that saw them give up 40 first quarter points to Orlando on Friday night. They were flying around the court defensively from the get-go, and putting on an offensive clinic to boot.
The Los Angeles Lakers, without their superstar LeBron James and second option Kyle Kuzma, were undermanned and outgunned. They made a few minor runs, but they didn’t look physically or mentally ready to compete in the matinee match-up. There was just one lead change for the entire game, and it came after the Lakers went up 1-0 in the very beginnings of the afternoon.
Minnesota’s defense was consistently swarming, and the Lakers gruesome offense helped it look that way. When the final siren sounded, L.A. had connected on just 36.8 percent of their field goals, and had precisely zero starters shoot over 50 percent. Brandon Ingram, Michael Beasley, and Lance Stephenson were the only players to reach double figure scoring for the night, and they combined to shoot 15-35 from the floor. Mix all of that up, and you can see why the Timberwolves finished the game with an 82.6 defensive rating, their best of the season.
In the pre-game preview, I compared predicting this game to an ashtray on a motorbike — useless — and it was. Nobody could have predicted the Wolves absolutely pounding the eighth seed Lakers into a fine paste. Even without The King.
On the Wolves end of the floor, everything was just about as rosy as it’s been all season. At the point of attack, Jeff Teague avoided being a dribbling plague for the second straight game, and finished with an impressive 15 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists and 2 steals. He seems to be a fresher and more spry after his nine-game absence. Teague is shooting the 3-ball aggressively, and making much quicker passing decisions. He has made 6 triples at 66.6 percent since coming back, and has totaled 21 assists over the two outings.
Karl-Anthony Towns put on another two-way masterclass, too. He dropped 28 points (11-20 FG), 18 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 4 blocks, giving him a career-best seven straight games with more than 20 points and 10 rebounds. Towns spent less time on the perimeter today, choosing to dominate JaVale McGee, Ivica Zubac and Moe Wagner in the paint. The trio couldn’t handle him in any way, shape or form.
“I’m just being aggressive, taking what the defense gives me. Being aggressive trying to take over the game when we need me the most to do it. Just trying to impose my will a lot.” he said after the game.
KAT did indeed punched home a mulititude of rim-rockers, none of which were more impressive than this McGee poster:
While Teague and Towns were spectacular for the entire game, Andrew Wiggins was the reason that Minnesota got out early and socked Los Angeles in the mouth. The 23-year-old was smoking in the first half, tying a career-high with 25 points over the two periods. Whether it was throwing down alley-oops, stroking corner triples or shimmying defenders off him for post jumpers, Wiggins did it all. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to continue his brilliance in the second half, but he still finished the game with an impressive 28-point, 5-rebound, 2-assist stat line.
Even when he couldn’t get a shot to fall, Wiggins was impacting the game in other ways. Like the rest of the Wolves, he was staunch on defense all night. He capped off a solid performance on that end with this Brandon Ingram swat:
KAT + Wiggins got the double block pic.twitter.com/eKzVfPuQR8— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) January 6, 2019
Along with the three standouts, the entire nine-man rotation came to play. Highlighted by Taj Gibson’s 12-point, 11-rebound double-double, Tyus Jones’ 6 assists and 4 steals, and Josh Okogie finally getting the ball to tickle the twine with 8 points to accompany his 2 rebounds and 3 impressive blocked shots.
All around it was a great night to be a Timberwolves fan, and a forgettable night to be a Lakers supporter. Even more importantly, the Wolves now move within two games of the eighth place in the Western Conference. If they can keep up their impressive play over the past two games, they might just have a shot at climbing out of the hole they have dug themselves into.
Minnesota travel to Oklahoma to face the Thunder on Tuesday, a tough outing against one of the premier sqauds in the Western Conference. However, they will be buoyed by the memory of a gritty two-point win at the end of December.
For now, they will rest and savor a win over the LeBron-less Lakers.