Timberwolves heating up heading into All-Star Break

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Clippers
Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Clippers / Katelyn Mulcahy/GettyImages

The Timberwolves are coming off a 121-109 victory over the lowly Portland Trail Blazers, and are now 38-16, first place in the Western Conference heading into their last game before the All-Star break.

After a small slump that saw the Wolves fall to the Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, and Charlotte Hornets (all below .500 teams besides the Magic) in about two weeks, the Wolves have found life again. Thanks to a newfound efficient offense and consistently stingy defense, Minnesota has won three in a row.

The common theme in all three wins has been the absolute decimation of the opposing team in the fourth quarter. Through this three-game stretch, the Wolves have outscored opponents 96-84 in the fourth, bringing back the clutch gene that seemed forgotten for stretch of January.

It's not a crazy statement to say that the Timberwolves are playing like the best team in basketball right now. Nobody can beat their unique blend of elite defense and fluid offense when they are on their game. The Wolves have also bought into a team mentality recently, averaging 30 assists per game as a team, bringing steadiness and rhythm to an offense that was beginning to become iso-centric for a stretch.

Here are some more storylines from the Wolves recent hot stretch:

1. Welcome to the team Monte Morris!

After being acquired for Troy Brown Jr., Shake Milton, and a 2030 second-round pick at the trade deadline, Monte Morris is now a Timberwolf. He has played in two games now, and while the counting stats don't jump off the page (2.5 points, 2.0 assists, 1.5 rebounds per game), he has had a clear impact on the bench unit. He's provided a steady hand (think Mike Conley lite) and some high-IQ defensive plays, registering a steal in both games and a block against the Clippers.

After not playing for the majority of the season due to injury, it will take Morris some time to round back into form, especially after joining a new team. But as he continues to cultivate chemistry with his new teammates, we could see him return to his Denver form that helped the Nuggets reach the postseason the past few years.

2. Impressive stretch for Nickeil Alexander-Walker

Simply put, Nickeil Alexander-Walker is THAT DUDE.

The 6-foot-5 guard out of Virginia Tech has been playing winning basketball recently for Minnesota. He is on one of the better stretches of his Timberwolves' career, averaging 16.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 90 percent from three in his past two games.

NAW has upped his offensive production while still giving opposing offensive players nightmares on defense, using his long arms and quick frame to collect steals and deflections left and right. It's not out of the question to consider the 25-year-old NAW a franchise centerpiece in the post-Gobert/Conley era.

This is yet another example of a Tim Connelly masterclass, signing NAW to a 2-year, $9 million extension this past offseason, which now looks like an incredible bargain for the Wolves.

3. Ball movement = higher percentage shots

In this three-game stretch, the Timberwolves have been dishing to each other and creating open looks for easy points. This is evident when looking at the team shooting splits. In the past three games, the Wolves are shooting 51.8 percent from the field, an insane 41.0 percent from deep, and 86 percent from the free throw line.

Simply put, when the Wolves work on making the extra pass, they shoot better as a team. While the team has good isolation offensive players like Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, the game flows much better when the ball is moving and everyone is getting shots up. This will be a key storyline to follow moving forward to see if the Wolves will buy into this team-centric offense, or if they will relapse into hero ball again.

Key stat from each game during the win streak

Timberwolves versus Bucks: Team shot 51 percent from three:

The Bucks had no chance of slowing down the Wolves in this one. When a team is shooting over 50.0 percent from beyond the arc, it's going to be hard to come back against them, especially when a team like the Bucks is down their two best shooters (Damian Lillard and Khris Middleton).

Timberwolves versus Clippers: Points in the paint advantage went 64-42 Timberwolves:

The Los Angeles Clippers did not have an answer for the Wolves duo of Gobert and Towns during the prime-time bout. The towering duo combined for 41 points, and made life difficult for Clippers center Ivica Zubac. The key to basketball is winning matchups, and against a team like the Clippers that relies on its plethora of wings and guards, exploiting the paint matchup was a must for the Timberwolves in this one.

Timberwolves versus Trail Blazers: Anthony Edwards

After a close affair for the first three quarters, including the Trail Blazers retaking the lead for a moment at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Anthony Edwards decided he had enough.

Edwards exploded for a 9-point outburst in the fourth (along with the help of some Walker 3-pointers) to put the Wolves up by double digits for good. By the time there were four minutes left in the game, the reserves had already entered the game.

Ant finished with a stat line of 41 points, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals. He shot 50.0 percent from three and an efficient 16-of-27 from the field.

This game had everything you could want out of the young Timberwolves star: contorting, crafty layups, nasty stepback mid-range shots, a barrage of 3-pointers, and the usual, must-see TV dunks.

The Timberwolves are the top seed in the West as of today, and a lot of that can be attributed to the stellar play of the Wolves fourth-year All-Star guard.

The Timberwolves will stay in Portland to play the Trail Blazers one more time on Thursday before Towns and Edwards head to the All-Star Game in Indianapolis on Sunday night.