The NBA is a make-or-miss league. But more importantly, it’s all about the vibes, baby! Last time we had a vibe check with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the stench coming from the locker room was malodorous. Minnesota has just lost to the Memphis Grizzlies, the team that exposed them in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Then, this year, they dropped six of seven games after a 4-2 start to the season. Anthony Edwards was standing around with his hands on his hips, D’Angelo Russell got the opposite of Fred VanVleet’s new dad strength, and the fit between Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert couldn’t have started worse.
Things were so bad there was chatter about trading Towns and firing Chris Finch. We were wondering if Edwards, 21, really wanted to be here. It was scary hours just over a month into the season. Fast forward less than a week, and the Wolves have given the fans a lifeline for the rest of the season.
I’m not going to sit here and say that wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers without Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen and a 4-11 Orlando Magic squad missing their best player in 20-year-old phenom Paolo Banchero and starting center Wendell Carter Jr. prove that the Wolves are good. But winning those games is a hell of a lot better than losing them. This team finally showed a sliver of what Tim Connelly saw in his galaxy brain when he pulled the trigger on the Gobert trade in July.
Watching the Orlando game, you could tell that the Wolves were feeling better about themselves in what turned out to be the best game of the season. It might just be the vibe change they need to get the season back on track.
Edwards was engaged from the tip, scoring 19 points with five made threes in the first quarter. He was running the floor, finding cutters with precision passes, and moving the ball to find open shooters. It was a complete 180 from the ball-stopping hero ball Edwards has become accustomed to when things get tough and the Wolves need a bucket.
Instead of lamenting perceived missed foul calls and making bone-head momentum-killing mistakes, Towns played with grace and power. He racked up the and-ones and showed some leadership qualities that Wolves fans have been desperately awaiting for more than seven seasons. DLo didn’t have a good game by any metrics, but he stepped up and hit a few clutch shots to stop the bleeding when the Magic went on a run in the fourth quarter. It doesn’t absolve the horror he’s unleashed on Wolves fans this year, but it’s a step in the right direction.
After another prickly start to the game, Gobert got frustrated when he didn’t get the ball. However, the All-Star center found his inner strength and tried to tear the rim down in the second half. The Towns and Gobert frontcourt combo finally looked like two All-NBA players on the same court, and the starting lineup dominated from start to finish. (Ant, if you’re reading, you were a plus-29.)
The chemistry was on full display while running up the score on one of the worst teams in the NBA. Ant and KAT were dropping dimes to each other all night, counting the other’s and-ones, and no one gave the body language police probable cause to issue a citation. The vibes were so good that the Wolves bench got a technical late in the game for celebrating A.J. Lawson’s first NBA basket too hard. It’s a far cry from the frustration that’s permeated the team for the first 15 games of the season and gives fans some hope that this won’t be another disappointing season.
Yes, there are still plenty of things on the court to clean up when they play better competition. The Wolves were out-rebounded by a lousy team missing their starting power forward and center and allowed Bol Bol to look like prime Kevin Garnett. Outside of Jordan McLaughlin and his four steals, Minnesota’s bench failed to show up and forced the starters into playing heavy minutes in a game they should have won by halftime against a crap team in mid-November. If the Wolves want to compete for a deep playoff run, these early-season minutes will start adding up, and the bench will need to step up to give the starters a breather.
There’s a lot to be done before this thing gets fully turned around. The Wolves play on the road next Saturday against Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, who just put up 59 points against the Jazz. It will be an uphill battle after another slow start to the season, and things won’t be perfect for the remaining 67 games. But beating up on a bad team might be just what the doctor ordered in Minnesota.