The Minnesota Timberwolves are on the rise. It’s possible to play a thrilling late November NBA game in the middle of an exciting College Football rivalry Saturday, and the Timberwolves played a double overtime thriller against the Philadelphia 76ers. It was center Joel Embiid’s return to the lineup after a battle with COVID-19, and he delivered with 43 points on 52.2 percent shooting from the field, but it wasn’t enough. The Timberwolves pulled out the 121-120 victory. They are currently .500 on the season and have won six of their last seven games — that includes a five-game winning streak that was their first since the 2017-18 season.
Their top performer was guard D’Angelo Russell. He scored 35 points on 52 percent shooting with six 3-pointers and eight assists. Russell made what would’ve been the game-winning three in the first overtime if the Timberwolves could’ve boxed out 76ers center Andre Drummond to prevent a tip-in, following a missed free throw from guard Tyrese Maxey. Russell gave the Timberwolves the lead that they would not relinquish in the second overtime when he stripped Maxey, led the break, and made the pass to forward Taurean Prince for the go-ahead bucket.
With the Warriors having only two losses, it would be logical to believe that they won the Russell/Andrew Wiggins trade. Russell wasn’t helping the Warriors win in guard Stephen Curry’s absence, and Wiggins at the forward has helped solidify their defense while still providing a scoring punch. Wiggins’ positive impact on the Warriors is clear, but that doesn’t mean Russell is a loss for the Timberwolves.
Russell has averaged 19.5 points per game and nearly six assists in his 72 games with the Timberwolves. While his overall field-goal percentage is low at 42 percent, he is shooting 36.7 percent from the three-point line, averaging nearly three makes per game. Last season he missed 31 games with a knee injury, but after his return the Timberwolves closed another well below .500 season, going 11-11.
Who actually makes the Timberwolves worth the price of admission (and the click on the League Pass app) is guard Anthony Edwards. His performance above the rim and in post-game press conferences makes him every bit worth last season No. 1 overall selection. He’s the first exciting part of Timberwolves organization since those Prince-inspired City Edition jerseys. Edwards closed Saturday’s win for the Timberwolves in spectacular fashion He blocked 7-foot-2 Embiid’s 3-pointer as time expired.
That’s consecutive defensive plays for the Timberwolves to knock off one of the better teams in the NBA on the road, and those plays are not anomalies. The Timberwolves currently have the 11th best defensive rating in the NBA. They haven’t finished a season better than 20th since the 2013-14 season. During this current stretch of wins they held teams under 100 points in four consecutive games, and only one team has scored more than 101 points on them in regulation.
Guard Patrick Beverley has certainly turned out to be a great addition to what appeared to be a crowded backcourt. He’s averaging 25.4 minutes per game is second on the team in defensive box plus/minus and fifth in individual defensive rating among players who regularly appear on the court. The Timberwolves had better hope Beverley’s defensive intensity remains with the team in spirit like it did on Saturday. He didn’t play, and won’t be on the court for at least a couple of weeks with an adductor strain.
This is unfamiliar terrain for the Wolves. If the playoffs started today, they would be hosting a play-in series game. They have made the playoffs once since the 2004-05 season, and won two playoff series since the franchise made its debut in 1989. Not only do they have a legitimate shot at the postseason, this team is fun to watch. This is a young team with promise that any basketball fan would enjoy tuning in to see, that can’t have been said about any Timberwolves team since Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett.
Maybe this time, the youngsters can stay together and build instead of becoming a passing memory of hope for an otherwise hopeless franchise.