The Minnesota Timberwolves might finally be turning the corner on a tumultuous first half of the season — from Jimmy Butler’s disenchantment and trade, to coach Tom Thibodeau’s recent firing — as they look to snare a season-best fourth consecutive win Friday night.
Minnesota (20-21) hosts the Dallas Mavericks, the league’s worst road team.
Interim coach Ryan Saunders, the 32-year-old son of beloved former Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, who died in 2015, earned his first NBA coaching victory on Tuesday in an emotional 119-117 road triumph against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
With a win against the Mavericks, who have only three road wins in 21 games, Minnesota would reach the .500 mark for the first time since it was 13-13 on Dec. 8. The Timberwolves have played well at home, going 14-6, including winning their last two.
But it was the raucous victory celebration in the visiting locker room at Oklahoma City that might foretell where this talented but so-far underachieving team could be headed in the second half of the season. Plenty of emotion was let loose, with a potential refocusing on camaraderie and making a playoff push.
“That’s all those guys in there,” Saunders said of the players following the win over the Thunder.
“It’s unbelievable how they stayed connected through the whole game, down the stretch. There were so many times we could have disbanded. I can’t say enough about that team.”
Andrew Wiggins put together his best game of the season, and perhaps career, with 40 points against the Thunder. Players praised Saunders for his coaching acumen throughout the game, especially in crunch time when he made several adjustments that proved to be successful.
“You can see the pedigree,” reserve guard Tyus Jones said.
“You can see he’s built for this. I’m just happy for him. He works his butt off; he’s so dedicated to this organization. He loves this organization more than anyone I know.”
The Mavs (19-22) make their first trip of the season to Minneapolis. They defeated the Wolves, 140-136, on Oct. 20 as rookie sensation Luka Doncic finished with 26 points, drilled four 3-pointers and grabbed six rebounds.
Doncic notched his fourth 30-point game of the season in Dallas’ home win against Phoenix on Wednesday, and he fell just short with 27 points in Monday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The only thing Doncic seemingly hasn’t mastered is how to lead his team to road victories. Dallas is 16-4 on its home floor and has played some nail-biters on the road, but the Mavs’ road woes have them on the outside of the playoff field halfway through the season.
“What I like is we’ve showed the ability to be a very good defensive team,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle told reporters. “We (also) show the ability to be a very good offensive team and an efficient offensive team.
“But, too often, we’ve mixed in a 19-turnover game and bad transition defense to take the wind out of our sails. There’s still a long way to go, a lot to be determined, but the urgency is there.”
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