Frederick: Timberwolves proving defense can win games in the NBA
Friday’s late victory over the Lakers was the 3rd-straight game Minnesota has held an opponent under 43% from the floor
Perhaps the Minnesota Timberwolves have finally discovered where their bread will be buttered with this roster — on the defensive end.
For three straight road games, Minnesota has played with an amped-up commitment on that end of the floor, most recently in Friday’s late 110-102 victory over the Lakers in Los Angeles.
The Wolves held the Lakers to 42% shooting, including just 32% from beyond the arc. Los Angeles is the third consecutive opponent Minnesota has held below 43% shooting from the field. That’s a nearly impossible feat in the NBA, where lineups are stuffed with skilled scorers.
League-wide, teams have shot below 43% in only 20% of games this season. But that capability exists with the Timberwolves given their current lineup construction.
Rudy Gobert and Jaden McDaniels are elite defenders. Anthony Edwards is as good on-ball as just about any other wing in the NBA. Mike Conley, Kyle Anderson and Taurean Prince are veterans who know how to defend their positions. Jordan McLaughlin, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Austin Rivers provide the type of perimeter defensive depth that ensures there will be no drop-off when reserves enter into the game.
Minnesota is deep and talented enough defensively to give most, if not all, opposing offenses fits — if it commits to doing so. The Wolves did that at the start of the third quarter Friday, holding the Lakers to just two points over the frame’s first 4 minutes, 50 seconds to extend a one-point halftime lead to 10.
Minnesota will inevitably struggle to score at times until Karl-Anthony Towns (calf strain) returns to the lineup, but the Wolves are proving they can compensate for a lack of scoring with defensive prowess.
Anthony Davis scored 36 points for the Lakers on Friday, but on a night when Los Angeles was without LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell, the star big didn’t receive much help. McDaniels frustrated Dennis Schroder, holding him to just 3-for-13 shooting from the field.
The Wolves found enough ways to score late to avoid any potential collapse. Conley scored five points down the stretch, including what was essentially the game-sealing triple to grow Minnesota’s lead from three to six with a minute to play.
Conley also locked down former Wolves guard Malik Beasley when the Lakers — struggling to find offense of their own — attempted to set up a play to get the sharpshooter a look from deep.
“Complete game,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said of his point guard.
The same could be said for Gobert, who finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots.
“Just try to be aggressive, try to be in the right spot,” Gobert said in his post-game, on-court interview. “My teammates did a great job of finding me. Just try to be aggressive, and when I do that, good things happen.”
Naz Reid added 15 points, eight rebounds and two steals off the pine as Minnesota punished the smaller Lakers on the interior. The Wolves outscored the Lakers 56-44. Reid and the entire bench unit caught a nice rhythm throughout. McLaughlin, Reid and Alexander-Walker led Minnesota in plus-minus and, Finch noted, in a lot of ways, the reserves “won us tonight’s game.”
“That’s one of our strengths,” Gobert said of the team’s bench. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can play basketball. When everyone comes out with an energy and a focus, it’s fun.”
Maintaining that energy and focus is vital for a team that will be at its best when committed to generating stops on the defensive end. Finding a consistency on that end has been the issue for the Wolves, who at times look brilliant defensively.
That brilliance may finally be starting to sustain itself as the Wolves (33-32) — who moved into seventh in the Western Conference standings, just a half-game behind Dallas for that crucial No. 6 spot — come down the stretch run of the campaign.
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