The Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Portland Trail Blazers 120-103, finishing undefeated in their five-game homestand with a convincing win. It was only the third 5-0 homestand in team history, and it came against four teams that are currently in the playoff picture (Pelicans, Cavaliers, Thunder, Blazers) and one on the bubble (Knicks).
They did so with a balanced scoring attack. Jimmy Butler led the team with 24 points. Jeff Teague had 22, one point off his season-high in only his second game back from injury, and Karl-Anthony Towns had 20 points and 11 rebounds — his league-leading 37th double-double of the year.
Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford all had 10-plus to round out the scoring. All on a night when many in the crowd were already fired up about the Vikings last-second playoff win over the New Orleans Saints on the other end of town.
“Guys are playing unselfishly,” said Tom Thibodeau. “It was a hard game to get going in in the beginning, probably a late-arriving crowd, and for good reason. It’s great that the Vikings won, but sometimes you have to get yourself going.”
Portland led 33-31 after one quarter, but the Wolves clamped down defensively in the second — outscoring the Blazers 26-10 and going into the half with a 57-43 lead that they never relinquished.
The Wolves have only had two other homestands that they finished with five wins in team history (5-0 from Jan. 23-31, 2001 and 5-1 from Mar. 26 to Apr. 5, 1999). They now have won five consecutive games by double-digits, the second-longest streak in team history, and have won eight games in a row at Target Center. They are 14-1 at home against the West.
“We had multiple guys in double figures, I think that’s always good when you have that kind of balance,” said Jamal Crawford, before Butler playfully interrupted him. “But defensively, we were going on defensive runs.
“We’ve come a ways,” he added. “And to be honest, we still have a ways to go.”
Towns pointed to the team’s defensive improvement as well. Thibodeau has recently said repeatedly that Towns and Wiggins’ improvement on defense is why the team as a whole has improved in that department, and why it it is holding onto fourth quarter leads.
“I just want us to improve,” he said, noting that the team folded in crunch time when team leaders were out earlier in the season. “Two of those games, if you want back, two blowout games were Detroit and Indiana, and Jimmy didn’t play. And then we had a stretch where Jeff was out.
“Now, even if someone’s out, we have a good understanding of what we have to do to win. And I also think the development of KAT and Wig has been huge. We all tend to look at the points and measure somebody. We’re not measuring the total impact on winning, they’re making winning plays now. And it’s really helped change things.”
In typical Thibodeau fashion, he warned that the team can’t get too ahead of itself, even after a strong homestand. Five of the next six games are on the road, and the one home game is against Toronto — currently the No. 2 team in the East.
Houston, Golden State, the L.A. Clippers and these Trail Blazers also loom on the horizon. They only have one other home game this month, against Brooklyn.
“Well, the thing is not to get too high or too low, and to always approach it with we can improve, and we can do better,” he said. “And so, if we want to be a really good team, that we have to approach it that way.”
We learned that this team is starting to turn a corner since eeking out a 108-107 win over the Blazers on Dec. 18. Since then they have only lost three games — all on the road. They’ve proven that they can win in front of a rejuvenated crowd at home. Now they have to show they can do it as the visiting team.
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