Struggling Timberwolves, Suns meet for first time
A slumping Andrew Wiggins and the tendency to give up big runs have plagued the Minnesota Timberwolves recently.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns are coming off their best defensive showing of the season and would love to keep Wiggins slumping.
The struggling Western Conference foes meet for the first time Friday night when Minnesota visits Phoenix.
Minnesota (4-10) is on a three-game losing streak since a blowout home win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 17. During those games, the Wolves have averaged 86.6 points in losses to the Memphis Grizzlies, Boston Celtics and New Orleans Pelicans.
Wiggins has made nine of his last 48 field goals in those games dropping his field goal percentage from 49.1 to 43.5. He also has gone 0 of 11 from 3-point range in the last three games and going back to the fourth quarter of Minnesota's last win, Wiggins is 0-of-13 from long range.
“You know, it happens,” Wiggins told reporters. “I went to the gym yesterday and put up some shots and my shot felt good. The good thing about it, my shot felt good today and I just missed.”
Wiggins was 2 of 19 Wednesday and Karl-Anthony Towns was held to a season-low nine points during Wednesday's 117-96 loss at New Orleans. It also continued a trend of allowing a big run at a key moment.
In Memphis, the Wolves gave up 14 straight points when they were deadlocked at 48 in the third quarter. Against the Celtics on Monday, Minnesota blew a 15-point lead by allowing 19 straight points bridging the third and fourth. In New Orleans, the Wolves gave up a 26-4 run after being tied at 57 and were never in the game the rest of the way.
“We have to play tougher,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Same thing — foul trouble, eight-point lead, we don't close out the second quarter well and it snowballed in the third quarter. We have to keep looking. We are not playing any defense.”
“Same thing, different day,” Towns said. “We have to fix it.”
The same thing, different day applies especially to third quarters.
Minnesota gave up a 36-18 third quarter Wednesday and has been outscored by a league-worst 8.3 points in the third.
The Suns (5-11) traveled 6,182 miles on a six-game road trip and won twice. They ended the trek by holding the Orlando Magic to 36 percent shooting in a 92-87 win on Wednesday.
“I'm very pleased with how unselfish they were,” Suns coach Earl Watson said. “They played selfless, and it showed on the defensive end. People always think unselfishness is from offense and 'Oh, he passed the extra pass.' It's defensively because defense, you cannot rest, you cannot hold back your energy. You have to give your all.”
It marked the fourth time since the start of last season Phoenix held a team under 90 points.
“This was our best game of the season,” Suns guard Eric Bledsoe said. “I thought we were locked in defensively and we played well as team.”
Bledsoe was part of a three-guard starting lineup that included Devin Booker and Brandon Knight. The Suns started their trio of former Kentucky guards for the second straight game and they combined for 39 points.
Alex Len collected 17 points and 12 rebounds and recorded three doubles-doubles in four games in place of Tyson Chandler at center. Chandler has missed four straight games and eight of the last nine following the death of his mother.
While Chandler is expected to return Friday, T.J. Warren will not be available. Warren has not played since exiting Friday's win at Indianapolis with an illness and the Suns announced he will be out for a few weeks with a minor head injury.
The teams have split the season series in the last two years although the Suns have won 18 of the last 26 meetings. In the last meeting on March 28, Wiggins and Towns combined for 59 points and Minnesota blew a 20-point lead but held on for a 121-116 home win.