After rare break, Wolves gear up for road test
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves were back to work on the court after some welcomed rest.
Now they’re headed out of town again for another meaningful test.
“Your margin of error is obviously smaller on the road, so I think you go in and have to eliminate all the ways in which you beat yourself,” coach Tom Thibodeau said Tuesday. “That’s why we always talk about defending, rebounding and keeping your turnovers down.”
The Wolves had Sunday and Monday off from practice after beating New Orleans 118-107 on Saturday, a rare break of that length that Thibodeau scheduled after the team played 30 games in the previous 56 days. Though they’re solidly in first place in the Northwest Division, the Wolves went just 9-8 in January.
“It helps a lot. You get in such the grind, and it’s almost like you’re running in mud at some points,” shooting guard Jamal Crawford said. “Even a day or two, you can feel recharged and ready to get back out there.”
The Timberwolves are 12-16 away from home this season, including just 2-8 against Eastern Conference teams. In games against the East, regardless of site, they’re only 9-13. So guess what’s on tap this week?
Trips to Cleveland and Chicago, on Wednesday and Friday.
The disconnected Cavaliers are reeling, with 13 losses in their last 20 games entering a visit to Orlando on Tuesday night and the recent loss of former Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love to a broken left hand, but they still have the four-time NBA MVP LeBron James. They also presumably have enough pride to remember the 28-point drubbing they endured in Minnesota on Jan. 8 and to recall the 32-point defeat by Houston they took at home on Saturday.
The Bulls are near the bottom of the Eastern standings, with seven straight losses, but for those who played for Thibodeau there’s surely a natural competitiveness to want to showcase their abilities in front of their old boss.
Then there’s shooting guard Zach LaVine, who’s coming off a 27-point performance against Sacramento on Saturday, his most points in 11 games since returning from the torn ACL in his left knee he suffered with the Wolves a year ago. Having been traded to the Bulls in the Jimmy Butler deal, LaVine will be carrying an extra dose of energy to face his former team.
Thibodeau cited conditioning, preparation and discipline as the keys to success on the road. But the ultimate ingredient is the kind of mental toughness that Butler brought to the team but is still making its way through the whole roster.
“Sometimes we get a little too complacent on the road and we relax a little bit too much,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said.
Said Butler: “You’ve got to wake up for every game the same way.”
Some of the Wolves took advantage of the breather to attend the Super Bowl, which this year just happened to be 10 blocks from Target Center. Butler, an avid football fan, was spotted in a suite at U.S. Bank Stadium. Towns one-upped him with a sideline pass to serve as a guest photographer for the The Players’ Tribune , making an unabashedly biased appearance in support of his beloved Eagles. Towns, who is from New Jersey, wore his green jersey again Tuesday after practice.
“I’m riding the wave,” Towns said. “It’s a good time to be an Eagles fan.”
Thibodeau is a native New Englander and a known associate of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who attended Minnesota’s game against New Orleans the night before the big game. The 41-33 victory by the Eagles gave Towns a golden opportunity to gloat to his boss.
“I didn’t flaunt it,” Towns said. “He didn’t answer my calls.”