The Minnesota Timberwolves entered Sunday night’s matchup with the Portland Trailblazers looking to snap their five-game losing streak. To do so, they would need big performances from not only their star players like Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell (who returned to the starting lineup after missing a week due to injury), but also their role players like Jarred Vanderbilt, Jaden McDaniels, and...
Let’s break it down...
Ladies and gentlemen — welcome back, D’Angelo Russell!
Sunday’s contest between the two Northwest Division foes was unique in that it sported two teams in very similar situations. The Portland T-Blazers entered the night on a week-long losing streak and had been forced to play without their starting point guard Damian Lillard. The Timberwolves? They brought their own week-long losing streak to the City of Roses and had also been without the services of their lead backcourt ball-handler.
D’Lo’s return to the lineup could not have come at a better time, and his impact on both ends of the court was immediately felt soon after the jump (sidenote: hi Rachel).
I was lucky enough to cover this game at Moda Center on Sunday night, and it being my first live Wolves action of the year, my biggest takeaway was simply how vocal and engaged Russell was, especially on defense. At shoot around on Sunday morning, both Chris Finch and Anthony Edwards referenced how important it was for D’Lo to return to the starting lineup, and that impact bore out over the thirty-five minutes he played against the Blazers — be it timely assists, key steals, or clutch late-game shots that ultimately iced the game and delivered a much-needed victory for Minnesota.
Anthony Edwards on D'Angelo Russell: "He’s needed. His IQ, the leadership he brings and everything he brings to the table every night. He’s needed out there for sure."— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) December 13, 2021
The Timberwolves are now 12-10 with D’Angelo Russell in the lineup and 0-5 when he sits. The difference between Russell playing and Russell not playing is evident with a simple eye test, but his enormous effect on this team is also backed up with statistics as well:
The Timberwolves are outscoring opponents by 8.3 points per 100 possessions with D’Angelo Russell on the court.— StatMuse (@statmuse) December 12, 2021
They are outscored by 12.5 points with DLo off the court.
That 20.8 net rating difference is the 3rd biggest in the league only to Jokic and Giannis. pic.twitter.com/L6VEjzSPDc
While D’Angelo Russell’s return was the key takeaway from Sunday’s game against the Blazers, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take some time to shoutout a player who I thought low-key changed the tide of the game mid-way through the third quarter and ultimately injected some necessary life (and playmaking!) to help Minnesota get back in the win column — the one, the only, Jaylen Nowell.
Hypothetically speaking, could someone get kicked off of media row for screaming "GIVE JAYLEN NOWELL A MAX EXTENSION"...?— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) December 13, 2021
Again, hypothetically speaking.
A simple glance at the box score might lead you to believe that Jaylen gave the Wolves a not-so-exciting 11 minutes off the bench, but I personally thought his performance in the second half (where all of his minutes came after he replaced Leandro Bolmaro in the rotation) gave Minnesota the exact blend of playmaking and shot creation that helped the team tread just enough water as Damian Lillard was beginning to set his alarm.
Jaylen Nowell makes Trendon Watford disappear, then hits the midrange jumper pic.twitter.com/CPwnEeqsMk— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) December 13, 2021
After the game, Chris Finch acknowledged that now might be the right time to start buying stock in the former Washington Huskie guard:
Chris Finch on Jaylen Nowell: "If he's going to keep playing this way, he's going to keep growing his role, no doubt."— jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) December 13, 2021
While I was (and still am) a big believer in Leandro Bolmaro, it’s been very evident over the last week or so that he is simply not ready for NBA minutes, and would likely benefit much more from an extended stay down in Des Moines, Iowa. With D’Angelo Russell back in the fold, he and Patrick Beverley (who was his typical, wonderful PatBev self against the Blazers) should consume most of the PG minutes, and I really think Jaylen should (and will?) take over the handful of minutes that had been going to both Bolmaro and Jordan McLaughlin.
Jaylen Nowell digging his heels in defensively more so now than in the past— jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) December 13, 2021
As Jace mentioned during the game, if Nowell can continue to give enhanced effort on the defensive end, his ability to make shots and create for others simply trumps that of any other bench player the Wolves currently have, and because of that he should be a fixture of the rotation moving forward. Thanks Finchy!
Last but not least — the Timberwolves front court balled the hell out against Portland. There’s no other way to put it: watching Jarred Vanderbilt do what he does live and in-person made me want to fill up a bathtub with espresso and go for a long swim. While he may not be the ideal stretch-four to pair alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, Vando’s ability to affect the game on the defensive end continues to be extremely valuable, and if he can continue to show flashes of offensive development like this play below, I may end up needing my first cigarette:
Jarred Vanderbilt attacks the closeout with a dunk pic.twitter.com/I0Uk5w7tqg— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) December 13, 2021
I mean, look at this shit:
Jarred Vanderbilt live-dribble kick-out pass to the opposite corner pic.twitter.com/6Ilo4kcUNc— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) December 13, 2021
On top of ALL of that, Vanderbilt has now connected on a made three-pointer in back-to-back games, which is definitely the opposite of “so lame.”
Vando’s front court running mate — Karl-Anthony Towns — was also really, really good on Sunday night. KAT finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds, but it was a few of his defensive plays down the stretch that helped seal the deal for the Wolves:
Karl-Anthony Towns aggressive pick-and-roll defense on Damian Lillard pic.twitter.com/qW5fpGVSSH— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) December 13, 2021
All in all, it was a very successful night in rainy Portland, Oregon. The Wolves will now head to Denver for a showdown with Nikola Jokic on Wednesday, before returning home for a nationally televised game on Friday night against the Los Angeles Lakers at 9:00pm CST (yes, that’s 9:00pm local time. Get that bathtub of espresso ready).
With apologies to the haters, I’ve got nothing. The Timberwolves prescribed the necessary remedy to cure any and all of the Sunday Scaries, and did so as a collective unit on both ends of the floor. Losing streaks are never fun, and as Anthony Edwards mentioned after the game, the Wolves latest performance against the T-Blazers allowed everyone involved — the players, coaches, and even the fans — to do something that a lot of us (myself especially) forget to do at times — take a deep breath and calm down.
Anthony Edwards on needing this win in Portland tonight:— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) December 13, 2021
"Man, everybody was so uptight, so this win just made everybody take a deep breath, calm down. So, man, we good, we back to ourselves."
I want to give a quick, sincere shoutout to the entire Timberwolves PR staff, Dane Moore, Chris Hine, Jim Petersen, Alan Horton, and Sachin Gupta for making time for me over the weekend and giving a small town kid from North Dakota the ability to cover the team that he loves in the city that he now calls home.
I asked Anthony Edwards about Anfernee Simons’ big night and whether or not there’s enough room in the NBA for two ANT’s.— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) December 13, 2021
His response: pic.twitter.com/4E9Wx28jIn