MINNEAPOLIS — The 1998-99 NBA season was “an unmitigated disaster.” Thomas Golianopoulos wrote about the lockout-shortened circus in his Oral History of the chaotic campaign. Opening Night eventually took place on February 5, 1999. What followed was a sluggish 50 games in 90 nights.
Two decades later, there was another Opening Night in February albeit under extremely different circumstances. The Wolves used pre-game intros in front of a booming crowd at Target Center to welcome an army of new faces to Wolvesdom after POBO Gersson Rosas dedicated the trade deadline to dramatically altering a roster marred by bad system fits and players ill-suited to execute his modern style of play.
Once the dust settled, right as the overheated trade machine finally powered off, seven new players were headed to Minneapolis. The dramatic pivot in personnel meant a formal in-arena introduction was in order.
The franchise’s prized acquisition is point guard D’Angelo Russell. He took the mic to address the crowd before tip-off. “Minnesota, I want to thank you guys! This is a true pleasure,” said Russell. “I’ve been feeling the love. We need you all to be the loudest most hype fans.”
His closing statement popped. ”KEEP THAT SHIT GOING,” D-Lo shouted. The crowd roared with enthusiasm and the building stayed wild throughout an unforgettable second Opening Night that saw the New Wolves Order dominate one of the league’s best teams in the LA Clippers.
I asked Towns if it felt like Opening Night in a sense.
“We showed ourselves tonight, so we can’t expect anything less from each other on a nightly basis,” said Towns. “This has to be the standard.” Hitting a franchise record 26 three’s obviously isn’t sustainable but the style and communication and desire they exhibited certainly is.
Towns: “This is the gauging point for all of us. We talked about it in here. Me and D-Lo. We showed ourselves tonight, so we can’t expect anything less from each other on a nightly basis. This has to be the standard.” pic.twitter.com/mtpelFY5lm— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) February 9, 2020
The New Wolves kicked the Clippers’ ass on Saturday night. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams, Doc Rivers, and everyone else looked helpless in the face of the onslaught. Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. The tight-knit relationship between him and Russell was on full display even with D-Lo sitting out with a bothersome quad injury.
”I think my dinner’s going to taste a little better tonight,” said Ryan Saunders. “I’m just happy for that locker room, more than anything I’m happy for the organization for having a game like tonight. I’m happy the fans got to see a performance like this. Again, you can’t be satisfied. It’s been a tough up and down year, but I think people can see what we are trying to build and see that it has potential for something very special.”
KAT hits triple, looks towards D'Lo on the bench. Flashes the three sign. D'Lo approves. Sources indicate they will be doing karate in the garage later this evening.— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) February 9, 2020
Jordan McLaughlin (people call him J-Mac) made his first career start and proved the critics that have been screaming “he’s too small” quite wrong. He was nothing short of amazing starting at point in D-Lo’s place. Final stats: 20 points on 11-15 shooting and a career-high 11 assists. A Star Is Born Part 2, Starring J-Mac? We can dream.
In his Wolf debut, Malik “Threesley” Beasley wasted no time in stealing the hearts of Wolves fans that have been waiting an eternity for a real shooting guard. He dropped 23 points connecting on 8-of-19 from the field, including a career-high 7-of-13 from deep and a career-high 10 rebounds in his first career double-double. Beasley’s 20 points in the first half marked his second career 20+ point half. Per Elias Sports, over the last 20 seasons, this was the most points in one half by a player in his first game with the Wolves since Troy Hudson scored 16 in the first half on 10/30/2002 vs. Denver (How Poetic!)
“I was in the zone. I couldn’t see anybody or hear anybody,” said Beasley. The Timberwolves hit a franchise-record 26 3’s in the game. Beasley added that he’s focused on making a playoff push with his new team — a welcome attitude no matter how the unlikely that is.
”We’re in a playoff race right now [with] 31 games left. It’s not over. I’m pushing to get into the playoffs. Straight up. Shoot for the moon, get stars. If we don’t make the playoffs, we ended a great season going into another season.”
Beasley is carrying the competitiveness in Denver over to Minnesota, along with his running mate Juancho Hernangomez — who ran the court extremely hard, defended well next to Towns, and cut with purpose in offensive sets. Juan finished with 14 points (3-3 from deep) as the starting stretch 4 in his debut. A Nuggets fans tweeted me this golden line: Juancho 3? Gotcho 3! Beasley and Hernangomez hugged after the final buzzer with massive smiles on their faces. Both of the former Nuggets seem thrilled to be in this new situation with the Wolves, one that can both accelerate their growth and future earnings.
“The greatest thing is that we have all played against each other so we know each others’ tendencies,” said Towns. “We have game-planned for each other so we knew that [Beasley] could shoot the ball and just give him the opportunity and the chance and the confidence to shoot it and he will make some. He didn’t just make some, he made a lot tonight so we are very fortunate to get that kind of performance on a night like this where everyone is very excited about all the changes. We just came in and focused on the game and we did a good job tonight.”
Beasley’s swagger was on full display, exuding an energy that should quickly make him a fan favorite around town. Two photos were taped inside of his new locker. One with the NBA Playoffs graphic, another of the Larry O’Brien trophy. Does he always keep those in his locker? “Everywhere I go,” he said. “Once I get that O’Brien, everything will fall into place.”
Head coach Ryan Saunders felt the same way as fans did; there’s something uniquely different about Beasley. ”There is something about Malik where you want, you want to be around him because he’s tough,” said Saunders. “I have learned that after just a couple of days—him trying to bring out the best in others, too. It makes me excited, but not satisfied.”
What does Malik think of the Wolves system and how he fits? pic.twitter.com/uGfDlcxIVZ— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) February 9, 2020
James Johnson finished with 15 points on 6-9 shooting in 20 minutes off the bench. His point forward skills were obvious, often moving the rock like a hot potato and setting rugged screens in halfcourt sets to free-up his teammates for clean looks. JJ dished out a season-high five assists and grabbed three rebounds. He looked like Karl’s new robust bodyguard, willing and able to strike fear into the hearts of opponents. There was a certain level of communication and competitive spirit from him that’s been missing for a while around here. In short, Johnson’s toughness exudes confidence. The Wolves haven’t had an enforcer like him since The Godfather Nikola Pekovic.
Naz Reid also joined the three-point party, registering 14 points on 4-6 attempts from behind the arc, matching his season high for triples made (Jan. 13 vs. Oklahoma City). Low-key one of my favorite moments was Naz Reid telling Karl he’s never been to Toronto last night. I’ve also never been to Toronto, and I’ve also never wanted to frame a basketball game and put it on my wall as badly as I did after last night’s crushing of the dominant Clippers.
“It’s a new era of basketball,” said James Johnson. “You have guys like Naz Reid and how dominant he his. On the opposite team you have Montrezl [Harrell], who’s the big man there — two different games, the same size, so the skill level of these kids is unmatched and some of these guys have potential that hasn’t been tapped yet.”
D’Angelo’s pre-game words act as the ultimate statement that hopefully defines this new club. Keep that shit going.