MINNEAPOLIS — Walking into the postgame press conference room, Karl-Anthony Towns stepped through the doors saying “don’t sleep on him, don’t sleep on him,” as Taurean Prince wrapped up his media availability. D’Angelo Russell simply tweeted #DontBlink and tagged Prince, along with the image of this recap, after his best game in a Wolves uniform.
It was the benches night to shine, led by the player they’ve expected plenty from after dealing Ricky Rubio to the Cleveland Cavaliers for him, a second-round pick, and $2.5 million. Prince showed out with 23 points (6-9 from deep) and 9 rebounds in what could best be described as a Corey Brewer Drug Test type of performance. Maybe Brewer should be the one administering Prince’s test tonight? Just an idea.
After the game, Prince tried to refer to himself as a chameleon on the podium in his presser but couldn’t quite come up with the word. We’ve all been there before. He accidently called himself a “Chamillionaire” instead of what he really meant while trying to describe his role on the Wolves—being able to adapt to any situation and setting he encounters—thus the title of this recap. It was an incredible, breakthrough performance for Prince with the added benefit of inspiring a cool new nickname. And seriously who doesn’t love a good nickname.
As January flew by in a flash, the Wolves handled a tough stretch of games to end the month 9-6, sitting 7th in the West at 25-25. If last month was the hard part of the schedule, they may now be ready for take-off in pursuit of a prized top-six seed.
Initiate the playoff launch sequence. The first night of February started with an explosive bench performance in one of the most dominant wins of the season over a familiar division foe in the Denver Nuggets, 130-115. Karl-Anthony Towns showed up ready for war against one of his biggest rivals in reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, matching him punch for punch en route to 24 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists. Jokic posted about the quietest 21/16/8 line you could imagine. “KAT did a really great job tonight on Jokic,” said Chris Finch. “Making him guard and guarding him hard.” But this one wasn’t so much about the big dogs.
With D'Angelo Russell out of the lineup once again as he recovers from a left shin contusion, the team, fortunately, got point guard Patrick Beverley (ankle) back in the starting lineup. Early foul trouble for Beverley, and one massive second-quarter surge, allowed him to slowly ease back into the mix with 15 minutes. The five-man bench unit of Jordan McLaughlin—who was doing a masterful job of running the show—Jaylen Nowell, Malik Beasley, Prince, and Naz Reid thrived together and basically ran Denver into the locker room scratching their heads searching for answers at the break. They never relented either combing for 68 points in a 15-point victory.
The way the Wolves won not only kept Beverley’s minutes low but Anthony Edwards and Jarred Vanderbilt were given a night of less burden.
“Vando was huge on the glass as he always is,” Finch said of Vanderbilt, who was a monster yet again on the glass against the team that felt fine throwing him into a trade to the Wolves as an afterthought. He had 18 points and 9 rebounds in under 19 minutes. But Vanderbilt is also pretty banged up right now even if he’s still playing at a very high level.
“You either love to play and compete or you don’t. And [Vando] loves to play and compete,” said Finch. A perfect way to summarize the Wolves forward taking the league by storm and gaining plenty of attention as the season progresses. Even the TNT crew was mesmerized by his energy and nonstop motor.
Ant was also happy to have a smaller workload with his team not completely relient on another tremendous game to bail them out.
“I’ve said many, many times, this team really likes each other,” Finch said of the synergy they are currently showing. “They really root for each other, they’re fun to be around, they have fun with each other. It’s just everyone’s game had to settle into a role, and I think we’re kinda there.”
If the offense was “in Cancún taking a vacation for a while,” as Towns said, it appears to be back. If the Wolves want to keep the good vibes going this month, even if the schedule might bait them into playing down to some lesser opponents, the defense can’t take aanother retreat up North either, as it did in January. “Our offense has been great lately because it’s generated through our defense,” Towns concluded.
The next two games against Detroit will prove plenty about this team. Time to see what they have.