Preview: Timberwolves vs. Hornets

Through the latter portions of a favorable stretch on the schedule, the Minnesota Timberwolves are showing improvement defensively at various portions of games.

The effectiveness on the defensive end is giving the Timberwolves a chance at attaining a winning record before they start packing for a four-game road trip and a road-heavy stretch for the next few weeks.

First, the Wolves will hope to maintain the effective defense and go over .500 for the first time this season Wednesday night when they host the Charlotte Hornets.

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Minnesota is concluding a stretch of 10 out of 12 games at home. After facing Charlotte, the Wolves will play 10 of their next 13 on the road through Jan. 2 with trips to Portland, Golden State, San Antonio, New Orleans and Oklahoma City on the docket.

During this stretch that began Nov. 12 after Jimmy Butler was traded to Philadelphia for Robert Covington and Dario Saric, Minnesota is 8-3 and 6-3 at home. The Wolves are allowing 100.3 points in this stretch but the numbers are improved in the latter portion.

Minnesota allowed 102.4 points in the first five games while going 3-2. The Wolves are 5-1 in their last six games and allowing 98.5 points.

The latest instance was an impressive second-half turnaround in a 103-91 win over the Houston Rockets on Monday. The Wolves allowed a 38-point second quarter and a 62-point first half before giving up 29 in after halftime, including nine in the fourth quarter.

“We came in here and made it clear we had to change things,” said Towns, after the Wolves allowed 31.6 percent shooting in the second half. “One thing I’m proud of is not only did we come in here and talk about it, we came out and did it.”

Monday was the fourth time in five games that the Wolves allowed less than 100 points and the second time they allowed nine points in a quarter.

“This just shows how good we can be defensively,” Covington said after he blocked Houston center Clint Capela’s dunk attempt with about nine minutes left in the fourth. “We really locked in. Everyone. Everyone who stepped on the court was really engaged in the second half defensively.”

Besides the defense fueling their latest win, Towns produced 24 points and 11 rebounds for his 13th double-double.

Charlotte (11-12) has yet to lose or win more than two straight games but heads to Minnesota with four losses in its last six games. The Hornets went a game over .500 for the fifth time last Wednesday with a 108-94 win over Atlanta but took a 119-111 loss to Utah on Friday followed by a 119-109 loss to New Orleans on Sunday.

The defense allowed 36 points to Anthony Davis while Kemba Walker played through a sprained ankle and finished with 13 on 5 of 16 shots as the Hornets dropped to 0-6 when allowing at least 115 points.

Walker is averaging 26.5 points this season but since getting 60 against Philadelphia on Nov. 17 and 43 against Boston two nights later, he is averaging 19.6 points in his last seven games. Walker is shooting 37.5 percent (45-of-120) and making 26.1 percent (12-of-46) of his 3-pointers.

“Any type of injury like that you’re just disrupted, you’re uncomfortable,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “These are highly skilled athletes and any type of tweak like that can be a disruption. But I think he would say ‘that wasn’t a factor.'”

Marvin Williams also injured his shoulder in the second quarter and will not play Wednesday. Williams was wearing a sling after Sunday’s game and is expected to miss a week.

“Marv is such a main piece of our team,” Borrego said. “He’s at the core of what we do.”

Cody Zeller also sat out Sunday due to sore ribs he sustained trying to defend Philadelphia center Joel Embiid but practiced Tuesday and he may play Wednesday. Willy Hernangomez started at center for Zeller and was backed up by Frank Kaminsky, who scored 19 in 26 minutes.

Rookie Miles Bridges saw 29 minutes Sunday and could move into the starting lineup for Williams after playing his second-most minutes of the season.

Bridges will likely see more time in place of Williams after playing his second-highest minutes total against New Orleans.

Charlotte is 7-2 in the last nine meetings with Minnesota.