For a good month and a half, the Timberwolves have played opponents with a different kind of mindset than they started with. Of course, while the term “tanking” has been thrown around more than “the Wolves could have drafted Steph Curry” chatter, the players on the floor aren’t out there trying to lose.
Tonight, we saw Andrew Wiggins, Lorenzo Brown, Zach LaVine, Jordan Hamilton, Chase Budinger, Adriean Payen, Robbie Hummel, and Arinze Onuaku working to beat the New Orleans Pelicans, whether there was actual tanking going on or not.
That said, the New Orleans Pelicans were playing, trying to win, with a completely different frame of mind. With the Oklahoma City Thunder begging for a New Orleans loss, the Pelicans weren’t just trying to win for the sake of keeping a basketball game competitive; they were out there trying to keep their season alive.
In order to guarantee a playoff appearance, the Pelicans needed to win out, starting tonight against the Timberwolves.
Given the circumstances, it was a much closer bout than most would have expected, especially considering the 15 point output (5/16 shooting) from Andrew Wiggins. But it was also Wiggins that set the tone in the first quarter, as he continued his March/April dunk-on-really-good-defensive-centers-athon, this time on center Omer Asik.
Not only has Wiggins been dunking on people, he’s dunking on dudes like Omer Asik and Rudy Gobert (twice), or “rim protectors”. It’s unclear what has sparked him, or what he’s figured out, but he’s starting to dunk on people in a way that he never did the first half of the year, certainly not at Kansas.
Heck, he nearly did it twice.
But Anthony Davis has already gotten everything figured out, at least in terms of how to be a dominant young player. In the second quarter, he gave the Pelicans 5 blocks, and enough of a cushion that it ended up holding off the Wolves for the rest of the game. Their lead grew to 19, and was never to a point where Monty Williams and company needed to feel overly worried about an upset.
But still, the Wolves stayed in it the entire game, even despite the Pelicans’ need for a win. A few things happened for that to unfold.
Despite a high number of missed shots for Minnesota, they did a good job avoiding getting beat back on defense. Even as Chase Budinger fell victim to an ankle injury, and Justin Hamilton to hamstring soreness, the Wolves didn’t show much fatigue, even though they were almost definitely feeling it.
Before he went down, Budinger put up a Wiggins-like statline in a lot of ways. He only took 7 shots (made 4 of them), but got to the line a lot, finishing 9-10, totaling out for an 18 point, 8 rebound performance in 31 minutes.
He’s scored in double figures 16 of his last 17 games. Since that first double digit output (March 15), Budinger is averaging 14.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists per game, shooting 49.7% from the field. He’s done it out of position, as a fill-in power forward, but mostly played his regular 3 spot in this stretch. Wherever he’s played, he’s looked good.
The Wolves also stayed in this game, in-part, because of their opponents. The Davis/Tyreke/Gordon trio combined for 68 points on 55% shooting, but the rest of the Pelicans lineup brought virtually nothing to the scoring column.
Ultimately, the Pelicans needed this game. The Wolves, in a way, are in the exact opposite of situations. Two teams featuing professional basketball players will always work hard to beat their opponent, but tonight saw two different levels of urgency on display. A lot of the time, games like these result in a blowout, but not tonight. That’s the fun of competition.