Two weeks ago, the Jimmy Butler saga officially ended for the
Minnesota Timberwolves. Freed of the distraction of an all-star
player seeking an exit, the Timberwolves began salvaging their
season and inching back to .500.
With five wins in seven games since dealing Butler to Philadelphia,
the Timberwolves attempt to keep the good times rolling Monday
night in a visit to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are on their first
winning streak of the season.
As Butler was in and out of the lineup and speculation about
possible trades lingered, Minnesota lost nine of its first 13
games, including five straight on a West Coast trip before Butler
was officially dealt for Robert Covington and Dario Saric.
Starting with a 120-113 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 12, the
Wolves began their current reversal. They claimed wins over New
Orleans and Portland before dropping games to Memphis and Denver
but rebounded with a back-to-back sweep in Brooklyn and Saturday at
home against Chicago.
After a 112-102 win in Brooklyn, the Wolves improved to 9-11 by
getting a 111-96 win over the Bulls. Minnesota is winning by an
average of by 11 points in this run and each time it is at least
one good defensive quarter.
On Saturday, the Wolves held Chicago to 17 points in the fourth and
it was their fewest points allowed in any quarter in the five wins.
“We want to make the right plays, play to each other’s strengths,
cover up each other’s weaknesses and play tough,” said Minnesota
coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team is allowing 101.4 points in the
last seven games. “On the nights in which you don’t shoot well,
hopefully, your rebounding and your defense can carry you through.”
Besides the defensive quarter, it was another big night for
Karl-Anthony Towns, who totaled 35 points and 22 rebounds. Since
the Butler trade, Towns is averaging 22.4 points and 14.9 rebounds
on 54.6 percent shooting.
“He was terrific in so many different ways,” Thibodeau said. “He
mixed it up. The post was terrific. Playmaking was terrific,
all-around game, the rebounding again. He’s on a roll
rebounding-wise. We played through him and we got a lot of good
stuff off of that.”
Also helping Towns is Derrick Rose, who continued to thrive in a
reserve role by scoring 22 points after getting 25 Friday in
Brooklyn. Rose has nine games with at least 20 points and is
averaging 19.5 points while playing 30.2 minutes per game.
Cleveland is 4-14 but no longer owns the league’s worst records
after sweeping a back-to-back set. The Cavaliers followed up a
121-112 win at Philadelphia with a 117-108 home win over the
Houston Rockets on Saturday.
“We beat good teams,” Cleveland coach Larry Drew said. “As I told
our guys, I really believe this team is still scratching the
surface and there is definitely room to improve.”
The Cavaliers are 4-8 under Drew and have split their last six
games since a one-point loss in Chicago on Nov. 10. During the last
six games, the Cavs are allowing 108.3 points, down from the 113.1
they surrendered during the 1-11 start.
“This is two big wins,” Cleveland center Tristan Thompson told
reporters after finishing with 16 points and 22 rebounds. “I think
like I’ve been saying for the last couple of weeks and LD said, if
we stay the course then we’re going to get our fair share of wins.
About four games where it could have been a W or L and obviously
didn’t go our way. These are the games that we are getting. I think
we are figuring out if we play 48 minutes, play hard, play fast and
always in attack mode then it gives ourselves a chance to be in
On Saturday, rookie Collin Sexton continued to thrive as a starter.
He scored 29 points and is averaging 19.6 points on 50.8 percent
shooting in eight games as a starter.
Jordan Clarkson added 20 with 12 in the fourth quarter and has 26
points in the last two fourth quarters after struggling Wednesday
against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The teams met Oct. 19 when Minnesota claimed a 131-123 home win but
the leading scorers from that game are either injured or elsewhere.
Butler led the Wolves with 33 points while Kevin Love scored 25 for
Cleveland in the second of four games he played before undergoing
left toe surgery.