With the team sitting at 4-9 after a close loss to the Phoenix Suns a week ago, the whispers about the Minnesota Timberwolves were carbon copies of ones in years past. Many of the Wolves’ faithful had started to brace for another deflating stretch where the team would dissolve into irrelevance in the Western Conference.
Instead, a winnable four-game stretch was capped with four straight wins and didn’t include the typical slip-up. Optimism is building as November turns to December as Minnesota continues to find different ways to win.
The streak started last week against the Sacramento Kings. A revamped starting five by Chris Finch featured Patrick Beverley, D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Karl-Anthony Towns. This group has been wheeling and dealing since Finch made the switch, which was noticeable in the Kings game.
Perhaps most impressive was the Wolves’ confidence in closing out a close game. They are 27th in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring (23.8 points on average), and they went out and hung up a 30-spot on Sacramento.
They followed that up with a blowout win over the San Antonio Spurs. Minnesota dominated from the opening tip. Unlike some of their disappointing losses to mediocre teams — the Orlando Magic game is still haunting — the defense gave the Spurs the boot.
Minnesota’s defense held the Spurs to just 90 points and only 12 total points in the fourth quarter as they coasted to a 25-point victory. While the Timberwolves have found different avenues for success during their revival, the defense has remained constant.
At the time of the victory of San Antonio, it was the third straight game Minnesota had held the opposition to under 100 points. They did the same in the next two games against Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans. The win against the Pelicans also checked off another box.
All five starters reached double figures in scoring on Monday night. It doesn’t sound like much until you look at how rare it is in recent history. Per Alan Horton of the Timberwolves Radio Network, it was the first time all year the Wolves saw all five starters score in double figures.
It happened a total of one time all of last year.
Suppose the four-game winning streak against less-than-stellar competition doesn’t liven up the room, fine. Just remember the Wolves are viewed by opponents as “less-than-stellar competition” as well. Factor in that it hasn’t been only one item that’s caused this turnaround. There is plenty of reason to be more than encouraged. And recognize that this is the kind of four-game stretch where previous Wolves teams would somehow drop at least one game.
It’s not just the stellar defense; the offense has been efficient as well. And ultimately, it’s been the ability to close out games, something they haven’t always done against some bottom feeders.
Winning can help cure a lot, and this is still a team that is only 8-9. But don’t let the overall record and the detractors deter the excitement.
In his postgame wrap-up following the win over the Pelicans, Finch noticed a different KAT this year compared to last.
“There’s way more joy in his game. He comes to work happier. He likes his team. He likes the fact that we’re winning… He’s come here into the season with the mindset to kind of get back to what he feels he is in this league.”
The four-game winning streak is nice. But what will they do against better competition? They’re about to find out in a three-game stretch where they will see the Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, and Philadelphia 76ers. Two of those three games make headlines with Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid (pending his COVID return) on the docket. For Minnesota, it will be all about keeping the good vibes going while trying to knock down some of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
Expecting them to rip off all three is a tall ask. Two out of three would even be impressive, given that two of the games are on the road. Make no mistake, though; this team is gaining confidence and starting to craft an identity. The hope is that the defensive improvements are not a small bullet point on the recap of this season when the final chapter is written. If they are here to stay, who’s to say this can’t be a team contending for one of the back-end playoff spots in the Western Conference?
The talent is there, and the execution and the belief are starting to follow suit.