Preview: Timberwolves vs. Hornets
Andrew Wiggins' career-best, 47-point outburst on Sunday for the Minnesota Timberwolves flashed the immense potential and the continuing growth in the third-year swingman.
With Wiggins leading the charge, Minnesota has been among league's best offensive teams. The Timberwolves are ninth in the league in scoring, averaging 107.9 points per game.
The Charlotte Hornets have their own breakout star emerging in point guard Kemba Walker. Walker is a sixth-year pro who's had plenty of big moments in the NBA, but he's taken his scoring to another level by averaging a career-best 25.3 points per game.
Wiggins, who begins the week as the NBA's ninth-best scorer at 26.3, and Walker (12th in the league in scoring) will lead their teams against each other Tuesday at Minnesota.
With Wiggins setting career bests in points in two of the past four games, the Timberwolves (3-6) have won two of their past three games. Wiggins has asserted himself more on the offensive end this season and picked up the scoring slack in Saturday's 125-99 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“He's smart. He's driven,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I think sometimes mistakenly people take him as laid back. He's competitive. I think he's just scratching the surface. I think he can do a lot more.”
Wiggins shot 14 of 21 in Sunday's win, hit two 3-pointers and went to the line 22 times, knocking down 17 free throws. One of Wiggins' weaknesses in the past had been his 3-point shooting, but he leads the league hitting 54.8 percent of his 3-pointers.
“I'm finding myself; finding the things I'm good at, the things I need to work at,” Wiggins said. “The game's just kind of slowed down for me a little bit. I'm able to read a lot of different defenses and how people are playing me, the defensive set.”
Walker isn't exactly new to his role as Charlotte's go-to man. He averaged more than 20 points per game last season but he's expanded his impact this year. Walker is also averaging 5.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game, while hitting a career-best 47 percent of his 3s.
The Hornets started the season 6-1 but have lost two in a row to the favorites in the Eastern Conference in Toronto and Cleveland. Walker scored a season-high 40 points in a loss to Toronto on Thursday before going extending his streak to eight games with at least 20 points with 21 in Saturday's loss to the Cavaliers.
Walker was so frustrated by the loss on Saturday that he sat in front of his locker in his uniform shorts for more than 20 minutes.
“We just let the game get away from us,” he said. “They made some great plays and just found guys when they needed to. They were just making big plays down the stretch.”
Charlotte forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returned to the lineup after missing a game with a strained back to notch 11 points and 10 rebounds while defending LeBron James. Kidd-Gilchrist could see much of Wiggins on the defensive end on Tuesday, but Minnesota's injury situation bears watching for matchups.
Wiggins' big game on Sunday came without starting shooting guard and third-leading scorer Zach LaVine, who was held out with a sore right knee. Thibodeau wasn't sure about the status of LaVine or backup swingman Shabazz Muhammad, who also missed the game with a sore right knee. With Brandon Rush also dealing with a sprained right big toe, the Timberwolves' depth is being tested.
The 6-foot-8 Wiggins moved to shooting guard against the Lakers with 6-10 Nemanja Bjelica getting his first start and playing small forward. Kidd-Gilchrist stands 6-7 while starting shooting guard Nicolas Batum is 6-8.
Bjelica responded well to the unexpected assignment, scoring a career-high 24 with five 3s.
“The only thing, here everything is possible and you have to be ready every night,” Bjelica said. “I think I needed this game, especially for myself, because I had, last summer, many issues. First my injury, then I miss the Olympic Games, then I put lots of work. That's it. I just played the best game so far that I'm here.”
Charlotte will still be without guard Jeremy Lamb, but the hope is he could return by Friday against Atlanta. Center Roy Hibbert has soreness in his right knee and is expected to have his minutes limited.