The Minnesota Timberwolves have been centered on Karl-Anthony Towns since he was drafted first overall in 2015, but this season he has a teammate that’s making a big impact.
D’Angelo Russell, who has had a nomadic career since he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers right after Towns, has been a steadying force for Minnesota this season. He proved that when he hit big baskets in Sunday’s win at Portland, the first there for the Timberwolves since April 2016.
Minnesota has another losing streak hanging over its head and hopes to erase that one, too. The Timberwolves have lost 12 straight games to the Denver Nuggets and will try to avoid a 13th consecutive loss when they visit Denver on Wednesday night.
The last time Minnesota beat the Nuggets was on the final day of the 2017-18 season which was, in essence, a play-in game. The winner of that game grabbed the eighth seed in the Western Conference and the Timberwolves prevailed in overtime to clinch the playoff spot.
Since then, Denver has swept the last three season series between the teams and won the only meeting this year, 93-91, in Minneapolis on Oct. 30. Minnesota has a chance to end its misery with Russell back and the Nuggets ailing.
This season the Timberwolves are 0-5 without Russell in the lineup and 12-10 with him. They lost three straight when he was out with a sore ankle but he returned against the Trail Blazers and scored 18 points, including a 3-pointer that started a game-winning run.
Russell’s presence has made a difference this year.
“He’s needed,” teammate Anthony Edwards said. “His IQ, the leadership he brings, and everything he brings to the table every night. He’s needed out there, for sure.”
Nikola Jokic has that impact on Denver. The reigning MVP may be having a better year than last season, with his numbers not nearly telling the whole story. His 26.5 points a game is 0.1 more than last year, his assists are down by just one per game but he is averaging 13.8 rebounds this year, three more than last season.
He’s been doing this despite the Nuggets playing without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. as well as a rotation that has been hit hard with injury and illness.
Denver coach Michael Malone has tried not to lean on his big man too much, but in the past two games the reserves have given up big leads and forced Jokic back into the game in the fourth quarter.
It didn’t work out too well Monday night in the win over Washington. Jokic was ejected halfway through the fourth when the Wizards cut a 33-point deficit to single digits.
“Nikola’s our best player, the best player in the league. We’re a much better team when he’s on the floor and available, not in the locker room,” Malone said. “Nikola can’t do that; he’s aware of that. Fourth quarter techs, an ejection, not a very smart play. We have to control our emotions better than that.”
–Field Level Media