Timberwolves take on slumping Suns

MINNEAPOLIS — Karl-Anthony Towns is a young, talented and proud player, but the Minnesota Timberwolves’ star center’s pride took a big hit when his Philadelphia 76ers counterpart, Joel Embiid, left Minneapolis on Tuesday with a near triple-double (28 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists) and a 118-112 Sixers’ win.

Towns publicly shamed himself afterward, shouldering the blame for Embiid’s monster game and his team’s loss. Two nights later, Towns funneled that frustration into a 30-point, 14-rebound and a season-high five-block performance in Minnesota’s 119-96 home win over the Sacramento Kings.

“I came to be an assassin tonight, not a basketball player,” Towns said Thursday night. “I wanted to try to be as active as possible and just disrupt the game as much as possible as well.”

Towns added five assists as the trio of Towns, Jimmy Butler and point guard Jeff Teague combined for 20 of the Timberwolves’ 29 assists.

“When we play like that and share the ball, we’re going to score,” said coach Tom Thibodeau, whose Timberwolves host the Phoenix Suns on Saturday.

Towns praised his team’s effort on both ends of the court.

“We did a great job with team defense, stopping the transition points, which has been a problem for us,” Towns said. “We did a great job of alleviating that tonight.”

In its three December losses, Minnesota (17-12) has averaged nearly an 11-point deficit in fast-break points whereas the Timberwolves have outscored their opponents by an average of six points per game on the break in four wins this month.

For the season, Minnesota is in the NBA’s bottom 10 in both fast-break points scored (9.2) and allowed (13.0) per game. After being outscored 14-5 on fast-break points by Philadelphia on Tuesday, the Wolves topped the Kings 13-3 in Thursday’s win.

Minnesota hopes to build off that against a Suns team allowing 13.7 points per game in transition, but the Timberwolves don’t expect much of a defensive battle when the Suns visit Target Center.

The NBA’s 25th (Minnesota) and 30th (Phoenix) rated teams defensively have split two previous meetings this season with each team winning on its home floor and averaging a combined 228 points per game.

Phoenix (9-21) arrives in Minneapolis having dropped each of its last five games and 10 of its last 12 following Wednesday’s 115-109 home loss to Toronto. The Suns are 0-4 since losing leading scorer Devin Booker (24.3 points) to an adductor injury, and frustration is mounting.

“We want to get some wins,” point guard Tyler Ulis told the Arizona Republic. “We’re going out there and fighting, playing our hearts out, but we just want to come up with a couple.”

The Suns battled the No. 3 team in the East hard, but came up short despite 55 points from the bench, including a career-high 32 points and seven 3-pointers from Troy Daniels.

The Suns’ bench ranks eighth in the NBA with 39.4 points per game, while Minnesota’s 25.7-point bench average is 27th in the league.

“I thought our bench was really good tonight, and that’s why they played as many minutes as they did,” Phoenix coach Jay Triano said. “We rolled with them because they were earning the minutes.”

Daniels made seven of his 10 3-point attempts to join Wesley Person as the only Suns player with multiple games of seven-plus triples off the bench in a season.

“We tried to keep him on the floor as much as we can,” Triano said. “He’s got an NBA skill of being able to really shoot the basketball and it’s good to see him have a great night.”

“My teammates were finding me,” said Daniels who is averaging 14.8 points on 50.0 percent shooting from the field and 43.6 percent from 3-point range. “I had a couple go in early, which is very important, and the rest were just falling.”

His teammates struggled from beyond the arc, however, going just 1 of 14 from long range. Phoenix ranks 29th in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage (32.9), but the Timberwolves don’t offer much in the way of deep threats either. Minnesota ranks in the bottom five in the NBA in 3-point attempts (22.8) and makes (8.1) and are No. 21 in percentage (35.8).

Phoenix has won nine of its last 16 games at Target Center where Minnesota’s 10-5 home record this season matches its second-best 15-game start at home in club history. The Suns lead the all-time series 68-39, including 29-23 in Minnesota.