Don’t look now, but the Minnesota Timberwolves are on a winning streak.
Karl Anthony Towns led the the way with 29 points and 17 rebounds, Andrew Wiggins had 19 points of his own, and despite Russell Westbrook’s 19th triple-double of the season, the Wolves ran away early in the fourth en route to a ten point victory. Minnesota has won three in a row and find themselves just three games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
For the third consecutive game, Ricky Rubio was spectacular, but this one was the best of the bunch. Two days after setting the franchise record for assists in a game, Ricky hit 6-of-12 shots, punishing the Thunder for sagging off of him in pick-and-rolls, and dished out 14 assists. During the Wolves’ streak, he’s averaging 12 points, 15 assists, and 3 steals, and looks more comfortable than he has all season. The plus-minus splits (relative to his backup point guard) are back to a familiar territory as well. Against the Thunder, Ricky was a plus-11, and Kris Dunn was a negative-1. In the Houston game, it was plus-12 for Ricky and plus-2 for Kris. And against Dallas, Rubio was a plus-9, and Dunn posted an even 0.
Positivity abounds among the Wolves at the moment, and Ricky is the one leading the charge. Of course, it helps that Towns has also been spectacular, the defense is showing signs of improvement, Brandon Rush has been a more than capable stand-in for Zach LaVine, and the team’s bench has started to contribute (more on that in a bit).
Might be the best win of the year. Good crowd. Towns, Rubio were great. Defense humming. (33 points off 19 turnovers).
— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) January 14, 2017
Saw members of #Twolves FO crack big smiles. Tangible evidence there’s progress when dominated by OKC on Dec. 25 then dominate them tonight.
— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) January 14, 2017
I don’t know if Ricky Rubio is long for Minnesota. I don’t know if this is his final season here. It’d make a lot of sense if they dealt him away this coming summer, as much as it pains me to admit. I hope that’s not the case, I hope everybody figures this thing out, and I hope Ricky stays. There are 42 games left in the regular season, so we’re pretty much halfway home. Let’s see what they can build together the rest of the way.
— William Bohl (@BreakTheHuddle) January 14, 2017
A few other tidbits from last night’s game:
- KARL ANTHONY. TOWNS. My goodness, the young man is on fire. During the Wolves’ winning streak, he’s averaging 29 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks on 68% shooting. That’s bonkers.
- Know what else is bonkers? The angle on this shot…
Karl-Anthony Towns!! Wolves win 96-86. 3 in a row pic.twitter.com/T90LK1THU2
— A Wolf Among Wolves (@AWAWBlog) January 14, 2017
- The emergence of a somewhat healthy and (very) effective Brandon Rush is a critical development as well. He’s played significant (read – non-garbage time) minutes in 3 of the Wolves’ past 5 games, including each of the past two that Zach LaVine has missed due to injury. In those contests, he’s hit 9-of-15 threes and done a ton of little things to help the team. Last night, it was physicality on the boards (he only registered 4 in 39 minutes, but seemed to constantly be in the mix battling for position). He filled up the rest of the stat sheet, notching an assist, 2 steals and 2 blocks. If there’s a silver lining to Zach’s hip contusion, it could be Thibodeau dusting off Rush and discovering there’s a capable rotation player to be found there. I hope Rush is firmly in the mix going forward.
- This probably deserves its own post (and will get one, hopefully soon), but some chatter has emerged over the past couple of games… should Zach LaVine move to the bench (while still closing games, presumably) when he comes back healthy? I’m torn on this one. If the future of the team is the big three, together, then they should be on the floor together as much as possible, wins and losses this season be damned. Then again, the team would benefit immensely (I believe) from a playoff berth this season, just to give them a taste of what it’s like. It’s probably too soon to really analyze this, as there’s really no way of knowing if Rush can stay this healthy and hot over the final three months of the season, but it’s an interesting debate to kick around.
- Gorgui was 1-of-10 from the field and finished with 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists… yet he was tied with Ricky for a team-best plus-11. As Lucas pointed out last night, he seems immune from poor plus/minus games:
Like, Gorgui can shoot 1/8 and have 3 boards and will have the same +/- as a night where he shoots 4/5 and grabs 7 boards.
— Lucas (@loseehafer) January 14, 2017
- Next, a word from Zach Harper, who notes that the Wolves may have turned a bit of a corner defensively…
Wolves in first 24 games:
109.2 defensive rating, 27th in NBA
Wolves in last 16 games:
103.5 defensive rating, 5th in NBA
— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) January 14, 2017
- And finally, Lou Brown, just because…