Three weeks have gone by in the Minnesota Timberwolves season, and there’s still a lot to learn about this team.
This is the third installment of the Wolf of the Week series. Every week, we’ll recap the past few days in Minnesota Timberwolves land and land on a Wolf of the Week award-winner.
The big headline this week is that the Minnesota Timberwolves avoided an eight-game losing streak by defeating the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday evening at Target Center.
After the victory, the Timberwolves sit with a record of 3-7. That record is weighed down by the aforementioned seven-game losing streak, and six of the losses came in the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns. On Sunday, however, the Wolves got the job done with Towns on the sideline.
There is a lot still that has to change for this team to take the next step, but stopping the bleeding was a step in the right direction.
Let’s take a look at the week as a whole.
Timberwolves lose to the Nuggets as fourth-quarter woes continue
Denver Nuggets 123, Minnesota Timberwolves 116
Historians will remember this one as “The Jarred Vanderbilt game”.
Although Vanderbilt played his best game of the season, another power forward had a breakout game. That’s right — Juancho Hernangomez scored 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting with eight rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block.
This was by far Juancho’s best game of the year and it was nice to finally see the ball go through the hoop for him. That said, Vanderbilt hounded Jokic defensively for the most part and finished with a team-high plus/minus mark of +9. He had 11 points, five rebounds, three steals, two blocks, and two assists.
To put it simply, Vanderbilt works hard. He is active defensively and on the glass, and we can expect to see an increase in minutes going forward.
D’Angelo Russell also played his best game of the year, finishing with 33 points, 11 assists, three rebounds, and two steals. The Timberwolves took a lead into the fourth quarter but simply couldn’t hold on, faltering defensively down the stretch.
Minnesota Timberwolves can’t keep up with Portland Trail Blazers offensive attack
Portland Trail Blazers 135, Minnesota Timberwolves 117
This was a game where not many Timberwolves played well at all until the game got out of hand.
DLo was one of the bright spots. He was efficient, scoring 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting with three assists and three rebounds.
Rookie guard Anthony Edwards also scored 26 points, with most coming in garbage time with the game out of reach, but he still looked good and registered his second consecutive game with a poster-worthy dunk.
This seems like a good time to address the Wolves’ starting lineup. Ed Davis doesn’t seem like the right starter, but Naz Reid has found himself in rapid foul trouble when he starts, so Ryan Saunders moved him into a backup role, allowing Davis to start.
Reid has played well alongside Rubio and Edwards, and when Towns returned on Saturday, Reid played extraordinarily well with the second unit while Davis fell out of the rotation.
In this game, Reid finished with 13 points in 16 minutes to go along with five rebounds, and a block. Predictably, he also recorded four fouls in those 16 minutes.
Vanderbilt again proved to be a viable option for the Wolves posting a double-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds, and two steals.
Minnesota Timberwolves lose a heartbreaker in OT to the Spurs in Towns’ return
San Antonio Spurs 125, Minnesota Timberwolves 122
The prodigal son has returned!
Towns was a game-time decision all the way up until tip-off, and man, did the Timberwolves miss him.
The All-Star big man finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. It was great to have him back on the court and it was unfortunate the Wolves couldn’t scratch out a win in his return.
This was a game which neither team deserved to lose, and it took an extra session to find a victor. The star of this game not named Demar DeRozan was Malik Beasley, as the Wolves guard finished with 29 points on an eye-popping 7-of-11 from three.
The Timberwolves took the lead in the fourth quarter with the help of Anthony Edwards and Naz Reid. In the final two minutes, Edwards drove deep into the lane twice and dished out to Naz Reid for three where the second-year big man splashed on both opportunities.
A lineup that Wolves fans may see more of going forward is Rubio, Beasley, Edwards, Vanderbilt, and Reid. That group of five closed out the third quarter and performed well with both Towns and Russell on the bench.
The Wolves and Spurs traded buckets down the stretch, eventually leading to overtime. Edwards was tremendous during the second half and kept the Wolves in the game, but the last play of the game was seemingly his first “rookie mistake” as he had a wide-open dunk with about six seconds left. Instead, he tried to kick the ball out for a three but it was tipped and intercepted by Patty Mills.
This was a tough loss to swallow. The Timberwolves played well, even shooting exactly 50 percent from the field and 50 percent on 3-point attempts. Ultimately, the rookie mistake and some defensive lapses down the stretch doomed Minnesota.
Minnesota Timberwolves break their losing streak, beat the San Antonio Spurs
Minnesota Timberwolves 96, San Antonio Spurs 88
To the extent that this is true about any one game over another, this felt like a game that the Timberwolves really wanted to win.
The injury report had Karl-Anthony Towns listed as out as a precaution in his ongoing recovery from a wrist injury. The Spurs were missing DeMar DeRozen due to personal reasons. Josh Okogie made his return for the Wolves, and his defensive presence was felt.
Anytime the Timberwolves can hold a team under 100 points, much less under 90, that’s a plus, regardless of who might be out for the other team; the Wolves finished with a phenomenal 91.7 defensive rating.
Other than the defense, the story in this game was the Wolves’ backcourt. Russell and Beasley combined to finish with 51 points. In total, Russell had 27 points, five rebounds, five assists, and a steal. Beasley chipped in 24 points and 3 rebounds.
The Wolves obviously would have liked to see more shots fall in this one, but it was the defense that provided the spark for the Wolves to snap their seven-game losing streak. Now, they’ll get ready to play the Morant-less Grizzlies on Wednesday.
Wolf of the Week: D’Angelo Russell
Russell averaged 25.5 points, 6.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and a steal in this last week of play.
D’Angelo played his best week of basketball so far in hopes to righten the ship going forward. The Wolves desperately needed a win this week, and although they couldn’t do it during Towns return they got the job done the next night.
Russell had struggled in the preceding week but turned it around in a big way over the past few games. The Russell and Towns pick-rand-roll game has yet to be entirely unlocked, but when it happens it will be a thing of beauty.
As Towns works his way back into the rotation, keep an eye on the Wolves’ ever-improving and developing offensive unit.