After their win at Denver on February 15, the Timberwolves had 8 days off. Only Karl-Anthony Towns had All-Star Weekend obligations, so most of the team had some pure time to relax. On Friday night back at Target Center, they appeared more rested than rusty, beating the Dallas Mavericks by 13 points, 97-84. The Mavs were without their complete roster, just having lost center Andrew Bogut and point guard Deron Williams in the trade-deadline shuffle and not yet having newcomer Nerlens Noel active and in the lineup. The shorthanded Mavs, largely behind the sweet-shooting of Seth Curry (a very poor man’s version of his brother Steph, which still makes him an effective offensive player) kept the game close until the last few minutes, when a series of nice plays by Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns put them away for good.
The first quarter was dominated by Wiggins, who poured in 16 early points when his teammate KAT was struggling. Towns was doing that thing he sometimes does, holding the ball when the double team comes and then forcing a difficult pass instead of making a quick and easy one. Karl finished the game with 7 turnovers, most of which came in the first half. Judging by his post-game remarks but more so by his sideline reactions, Thibs hates those KAT turnovers out of the post as much as anything. He preaches about making the easy pass to keep the ball moving, and too often Towns makes the slow and difficult one. It’s something that’s being worked on.
In the second quarter, a second unit led by Kris Dunn (who played his usual brand of tenacious D but also hit a pair of jumpers and a couple nice dishes) and Tyus Jones next to him kept the Wolves a safe distance apart from the Mavs. Shabazz chipped in a couple of signature fast-break slams in that quarter before being mostly non-existent in the 2nd Half. The Wolves led by 9 at the break.
Jones would end up playing much of the 2nd Half (and 24 minutes overall) with Thibs after the game citing both a need to find ways to get Tyus on the floor as well as Dallas’s dual point guard lineups as reasons for the rotation adjustment. In that time, Tyus had 11 points on 4-6 shooting to go along with 2 assists and 0 turnovers in (+8) basketball. He’s become a no-doubt NBA rotation guard before turning 21 years old. Last year, when he was physically overwhelmed, it was reasonable to doubt whether or not he’d make it. Now, the question is how much more room he has to grow.
In the second half, Wiggins cooled off a bit (though he ended with an efficient 27 points) but Towns got his act together. As often seems to be the case when KAT goes from struggling to succeeding, he did more of the dirty work and got his points via hustle and jump hooks. After a slow start he ended the game with 26 points on 12-18 shooting to go along with 18 boards and 3 assists in (+16) basketball. After the Wolves let their guard down and the score was actually tied for a brief moment (at 75-75 in the mid-4th), they stepped back up and closed on a 22-9 run.
Towns scored a couple of baskets in Winning Time off of Wiggins assists, and this very unwanted sampling of LaVineless basketball is serving as an interesting experiment to see how much the Wolves offense can be carried by 2 players instead of 3. In the last 8 games since LaVine went down, Wiggins is averaging 30.6 points per game. Towns is averaging 28.1. Both have great field goal percentages and their 2-man lineup’s offensive rating is an absurdly-good and unsustainable 121.4. (That is almost 7 points better than Golden State’s offense.) This is something to keep an eye on, as the long-term management of this team involves the question of who to pay the big money to, and if they can get as good (or better!) offense from a Wig & KAT nucleus as they do the 3-headed monster that includes LaVine, it will open up their checkbook to spend on things like defense and depth.
This was a long week for him; probably the longest of his NBA career — at least as far back as when he injured his knee as a rookie. Ricky was probably the most-discussed player in the lead-up to the trade deadline, with both Woj and a slew of ESPN reporters reporting throughout the week that the Wolves might trade him to the Knicks. Where exactly the negotiations began and where exactly they went before ending, we’ll probably never know all of the details. What we know is that Rubio reacted to all of it via social media (multiple times) which suggested that the rumors were real and that he was not in favor of the change.
On Friday, he went back to work and did his job. Ricky was all over the place in the second half against Dallas, stealing the ball and shoving it up the floor to streaking teammates for dunks. He mixed in a variety of clever shots of his own. When it was all said and done, Rubio 13 points, 14 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals. He was (+15). The crowd, which on a Friday was bigger than the disappointing Target Center average, showed him lots of love, cheering louder than usual for their favorite point guard who they (maybe?) nearly lost for good, a couple days back.
After the game Thibs was mostly positive and very quick and to the point. He arrived in the media room earlier than usual, perhaps because his team has a flight to Houston to catch. Tomorrow night they’ll face the 41-18 Rockets, where they will once again have to do their job to have a chance to win.