Preview: Wolves at Suns
PHOENIX — The Suns began their current mini-run with a last-minute victory at Minnesota a week ago.
The Timberwolves have one last chance to atone when the teams meet for the fourth and final time this season Saturday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Recent roster addition Isaiah Canaan hit three free throws with six seconds remaining in his first game with the Suns, a 108-106 victory in Minnesota on Dec. 16. That began a stretch in which the Suns have won three of four, culminating with a late 97-95 victory over Memphis on Thursday.
The Suns (12-22) have overcome double-digit deficits in each of their last three victories and were down by 15 in Minnesota before recovering.
The Northwest-leading Timberwolves (19-13) have won their two games since falling to Phoenix, the last a 112-104 victory at Denver on the first of a three-game road trip that ends against the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day.
All-Star guard Jimmy Butler has keyed the Timberwolves’ wins over Portland and Denver after an off game against the Suns last week.
Butler scored 37 points in a one-point victory over Portland on Monday and followed that with eight consecutive points late in the fourth quarter when the Blazers broke Denver’s eight-game home winning streak Wednesday.
“My teammates, they’ve got the utmost confidence in me to take and make shots as of late,” Butler told reporters in Denver. “If I’m open and it’s my shot, I’m going to shoot it. If it’s not, I’m going to pass it. I have just as much faith in my teammates as I do myself. That’s part of the game: You take what the game gives you.”
Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau knows what he has in Butler, who is averaging 20.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game.
“You can’t say enough about the way Jimmy closes out,” Thibodeau told reporters in Denver. “It’s just one big play after the next. Big shots, drawing the foul again, making the right plays. It’s tremendous. That’s who he is. That’s Jimmy Butler.”
Center Karl-Anthony Towns leads the Wolves in scoring at 20.7 and rebounding at 11.6 per game. He is averaging 25.7 points against the Suns this season.
After Canaan hit three free throws to give the Suns a 108-106 lead at Minnesota, Suns reserve center Alex Len blocked a Butler drive out of bounds. On the ensuing possession, Butler’s last-second jumper rimmed out. He finished with 10 points on 5-of-18 shooting, and Thibodeau said after that one that Butler had been affected by back issues.
Len had a career-high 19 rebounds in that game, and he and the rest of the Suns’ reserves have played large roles in their recent run. Len has 52 rebounds in the last four games, Canaan has 52 points and Trey Daniels has 50 points, including the final points in the victory over Memphis on a 3-pointer with 17.6 seconds remaining.
The Suns held Memphis scoreless over the final 4:10 Thursday, when the Grizzlies missed all 10 field-goal attempts. Reserve center Greg Monroe made a diving save on a missed shot and passed to Daniels for the game-winner against his former team. Monroe had eight points, 12 rebounds and a season-high seven assists.
“We live for moments like this and we work each and every day for moments like this,” Daniels said. “I just happened to hit the shot. It feels great, I’ll tell you that. (I’d) rather for it to be on them than anyone else.
“The second unit, we just had that spark again and tried to fulfill it throughout the whole game.”
The Suns play three more games before the new year, beginning with a Dec. 26 home rematch against Memphis, and they have set late December as a soft timeline for leading scorer Devin Booker’s return. Booker, 13th in the league with a 24.3 scoring average, has missed almost three weeks with a strained left abductor muscle.