Entering tonight’s matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Minnesota Timberwolves faced the classic good news/bad news situation. The bad news? The Wolves were already 0-2 against OKC, and came in riding an 8-game losing streak. The good news? For the first time this season, the Wolves squared off against the Thunder with both Karl-Anthony Towns AND Andrew Wiggins in the lineup.
Despite having their two max contract players back on the floor, it was more of the same bad news at Target Center Saturday night, as the Wolves dropped their ninth straight game, moving their overall record to a depressing 15-31.
After a blistering first half from Towns that saw him account for half of the Wolves 48 points, the home team came out flat yet again in the third quarter (drink!), getting outscored 39-24. Minnesota simply had no answer for OKC’s Point God, who paced the Thunder with his one millionth double-double (someone should double-check that).
As for the Wolves starting point guard, he notched his first career triple-double, filling up the stat sheet with 10 points, 13 assists, and 10 rebounds. While this season has clearly fallen apart over the last few weeks, it should be noted that Shabazz Napier continues to play his ass off, providing much more heart and energy than some of his peers who get paid (substantially) more than he does.
Having the privilege of coming back to cover this game, I got to interview a few of the players after the game, and while the losing locker room was filled mostly with sweaty jerseys and overused cliches, the 6’1” guard out of Connecticut chose a different strategy, deciding to wear his heart on his sleeve as he described just how frustrating losing can be:
Shabazz Napier gave one of the best (and realest) postgame interviews you’ll ever see from a player on a losing team.— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) January 26, 2020
You can question the system, you can question the roster, but don’t ever question this dude’s heart. pic.twitter.com/0ZlENaXjkY
Side tangent — living out in Portland, OR as I do, I don’t get to be around this team as much as many others who cover it, but I can confidently say that the 5-6 minutes Shabazz Napier spent talking after the game was one of the coolest moments I’ve ever had around the game of basketball. The Minnesota Timberwolves [redacted] suck right now, and have sucked for a long time. But while some players (who collect paychecks far larger than what Shabazz takes home after taxes) may just shake it off and look towards brighter tomorrows, Napier displayed what a lot of modern day players in 2020 refuse to — raw emotions. No cliches, no Euro-stepping questions, and no bullshit. While he may never be the tallest player on the court (or even the second shortest), the Huskie alum showed (at least to me) that it’s not always just about height and weight in the NBA, but also about what you possess on the inside that really matters.
So where do we go now? The Wolves have one more home game on Monday (against the Sacramento Kings) before an odd quirk in the schedule “rewards” Minnesota with four straight nights off. I’d imagine that the Wolves will do some intense practicing next week, and despite what has become (another) lost season, look for ways to somehow steady the sinking ship over the next 30 or so games.
Full Game Highlights
- Napier’s 10-13-10 performance was the second triple-double for the Wolves this season, which hasn’t happened since all the way back in 2013-2014.
- Jarrett Culver reverted back to his 2019 ways against the Thunder, tallying just 5 points on 2-of-6 shooting (including a pair of misses from the charity stripe). The rookie out of Lubbock did lead the team with a +12, but seemed to be flustered at times by the physicality of the Thunder wings. I still 100% believe that JC will become a good (to possibly great) player in this league, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that until his shooting stroke gets re-worked, his overall production is going to severely suffer.
- Andrew Wiggins finished the game with 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting (including 4-of-11 from three), but once again did most of his damage in the second half (17 of those 22 were in the final two quarters). I’m not sure if Wiggs has discovered preworkout, but I’d highly suggest someone on the training staff slip a few scoops into his water bottle before the Kings come to town.
- Ryan Saunders confirmed after the game that Gorgui Dieng (who failed to score in just 6 minutes of action) was a victim of rotation issues due to the fact that OKC relied heavily on lineups that included 2 (or 3) PG’s on the floor.
- Naz Reid, who ironically stole Gorgui’s second half minutes, provided a much needed 7-minute jolt that fueled the Wolves outscoring OKC 32-22 in the last frame. When Reid was finally subbed out, he was overheard telling teammate Jordan Bell “man, I’m hella hungry.” Being the Big J journalist that I am, I can confirm that Big Nazty did indeed get a much-deserved protein shake after the game.