A night after securing their second (and most impressive) victory of the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves traveled south to Los Angeles for what was shaping up to be a pseudo double-header between the Lakers (Sunday night) and then the Clippers (Tuesday night).
The endorphin rush that came from Saturday’s stunning victory against the Utah Jazz leaked into Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon, especially after it was initially reported that Karl-Anthony Towns would surprisingly have a chance to play in the matchup against LAL, despite falling extremely hard on his left wrist the night before.
Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns suffered a left wrist dislocation and will be re-evaluated weekly on a return to play plan. He won’t require surgery. A hand specialist evaluated Towns in LA today.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 28, 2020
As you know by now, Woj would go on to report that there was “optimism that this will be a relatively short-term absence for Towns,” and Ryan Saunders doubled-down on this pregame when he told the media that KAT would be considered “week-to-week” but that surgery was (as Woj originally reported) not necessary.
For someone who thrives on optimism like myself (it’s both a blessing and a curse), this news came as a major sigh of relief, as it appeared when the injury initially happened in Salt Lake City that Towns had indeed broken his wrist and would be out multiple months, not weeks.
So that was my glass half-full approach heading into the Sunday night matchup against the Lakers, who were also without their star big man in Anthony Davis due to a calf contusion. That half-full glass was quickly chugged three minutes into the first quarter, as that’s when the game not only got away from the Timberwolves, but was inevitably put to bed.
There’s no real sense in recapping what took place on NBATV Sunday night against the defending champion Lakers. When the schedule came out a few weeks back, the Sunday night national TV game appeared to be a guaranteed “L” due to a mixture of it being the second night of a back-to-back and the Lakers being — you know — really good. Mix in Karl’s absence due to his wrist injury and my overall expectations for game #3 were pretty low.
And yet, somehow, the Wolves failed to meet them. Kyle Kuzma started the game playing (and looking like) a lit match, pacing LA with 14 first quarter points, including four three-pointers. The entire Lakers squad was practically lights out early on from deep, connecting on 13-of-35 3PA’s while the Timberwolves shot just 6-of-35 (17.1%)
To add insult to injury, Josh Okogie left the game in a second quarter with what looked like an apparent (and fairly severe) hamstring or knee injury, although it was later announced that Josh was simply experiencing cramping, according to Timberwolves PR:
Status Update:— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) December 28, 2020
Josh Okogie, OUT for the game with cramping
While that would be another HUGE sigh of relief on the injury front, this situation with JO is still worth monitoring, especially when you consider the team originally announced Towns as QUESTIONABLE for Sunday’s game before downgrading him to OUT for what looks to be multiple weeks. Regardless of the severity (or lack thereof) of Josh’s injury, two injuries to two starters in less than 24 hours is a pretty disastrous way to springboard from a 2-0 start to the season, and it’ll fall on head coach Ryan Saunders and his coaching staff to preach a “next man up” mentality until both Josh and Karl can return.
The Wolves will remain in LA to start the final week of 2020 as they prepare for the other Staples Center resident — the Los Angeles Clippers — who are coming off their own public humiliation earlier on Sunday when they lost on the same floor to the Dallas Mavericks by 51 (yes, FIFTY-ONE). The Clippers will be undoubtedly be motivated to get the taste of that historic loss out of their mouths, and what better way to do so than against an undermanned and reeling Minnesota Timberwolves squad!
On a much lighter (and slightly more optimistic) note, when the Wolves set off for this challenging three-game road trip, I tweeted out that it would be a major plus for the team to somehow steal one game and return to Target Center playing .500 ball, and after surprising the Jazz in Salt Lake City, Minnesota will have accomplished just that.
Now, that proclamation didn’t factor in losing one (or maybe multiple) starters to semi-prolonged absences, but nevertheless the Wolves should return home for their Friday night matchup against the Wizards with at least a record of 2-2, and depending on how Towns progresses with his rehab, the 2020-2021 season may not be in serious peril just yet (or so I hope).
- After failing to co-star in either of the Wolves first two contests, Juancho Hernangomez finally got on the board (literally) against the Lakers, scoring his first official basket(s) of the 2020-2021 season, finishing the game with 6 points and 5 rebounds (in 13 condensed minutes).
- Junacho’s PF brethren — Jake Layman — wasn’t much better, tallying 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting and collecting 3 rebounds in the 15 minutes he played. Ryan Saunders emptied the bench EARLY in Sunday night’s blowout, so it’s hard to really obtain much information about their performance, but a simple eye test will tell you that both players are PRESSING right now and have Jarrett Culver rookie season-level confidence when they’re on the floor. With Towns sidelined on a week-by-week basis, the Wolves will need both of these guys to snap out of it if they are going to keep the boat afloat, and if neither shows signs of life, it may be time to give Rondae Hollis-Jefferson a call (we still have his number, right?)
- Speaking of power forwards — Jayden McDaniels made his NBA debut late in the fourth quarter Sunday night and abruptly hit two quick (and really smooth looking!) three-pointers. The former Washington Huskie also notched two steals and a rebound in garbage time, and despite appearing to weigh approximately 160 pounds dripping wet, I thought the rookie flashed some really intriguing stuff in the eight or so minutes he was out there. McDaniels just turned 20 back in September and was considered a project when the Wolves selected him late in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft, but if the team continues to get next-to-nothing from their PF brigade, it may be worth a shot throwing McDaniels to the Wolves (no pun intended) and seeing how he responds.
- Marc Gasol paced the Lakers with a team high 8 assists and 4 blocks despite playing in just under 21 minutes of action. Like many other players right now in the Association, Gasol appears to still be playing himself into game shape, but if he can regain some of the form he had during his tenure with the Toronto Raptors, the defending champs may become even more likely to repeat next summer.