Often times, many people try to spin the season resuming after the All-Star break as some sort of “second chance” or opportunity for rejuvenation. Maybe, just maybe, a week-long break from competitive basketball can energize a team and have them ready to go.
Though the idea of seeing a different Minnesota Timberwolves team the rest of the way is an exciting prospect, it also seems unlikely. The Timberwolves returned from the break with the league’s worst record by several games and losers of 13 of their last 14 games. Their last game before the intermission featured the Hornets blowing them out in nearly historical fashion.
There was little cause for excitement as locker room tensions spilled into the media as the team seemed to be spiraling towards one of the franchise’s worst finishes.
All of that made Thursday’s 135-105 victory over New Orleans that much more unpredictable. Early on, it seemed like these were the same old Timberwolves. The Pelicans built a quick 24-8 lead with 5:05 remaining in the first quarter as Steven Adams and Zion Williamson dominated the Wolves inside.
From then on, Minnesota outscored New Orleans 127-81. Yes, this Timberwolves team outplayed another NBA team by 41 points over 43 minutes. For once, it was the opposition that appeared frustrated and defeated as a game they once led slipped away. The Timberwolves took the lead in the second quarter and never looked back.
Just One Of Those Games
As many of you know by now, these are the games the Timberwolves are often on the wrong side of. The Timberwolves made 19-of-40 3-pointers while the Pelicans hit just 6-for-32. Sometimes teams are just going to make shots while you can’t get anything to fall. That was very much the case for the Pelicans. If Jaylen Nowell and Jaden McDaniels combine to shoot 10-of-12 from deep at this point in their careers, it’s probably not your night.
Some credit should also go to Chris Finch here. The new coach held true to his word and shortened his rotation. Ten players entered the game but only eight played more than 20 minutes. Juancho Hernangomez wouldn’t have seen playing time if this wasn’t a blowout. Williamson and Adams were unfazed by Vanderbilt and played sparingly after the first quarter.
Not only did Finch shorten his rotation, but he trusted the players who built the lead to close the game (what a revelation that was!). Prior to Thursday night, Anthony Edwards, Nowell, and McDaniels have had very few chances to finish victories. And yet, this game provided the young players valuable experience playing with a lead and learning to never take your foot off the gas. Minnesota entered the fourth quarter with a 23-point lead and won by 32 points. That’s a very encouraging sign.
One Win Doesn’t Solve Their Problems
None of this is to say the team is fixed. The Timberwolves showed us they had a long way to go in the first half of the season and that’s still true. Yet, if you were looking for signs of life after a dismal stretch of the season, Thursday’s win was exactly what you needed.
Seeing this team blown out by decent teams like Charlotte isn’t fun. However, watching a team steal a surprise victory is enjoyable. Maybe this team isn’t good enough right now to win many more games going forward, but just seeing them be competitive is a step in the right direction, and a serious upgrade over what we watched in the first 36 games of the season.
If they can play competitively consistently enough, maybe the second half can truly be a second chance.