Preview: Wolves at Suns
PHOENIX — Phoenix played one of its best games of the season on Thursday.
Minnesota … not so much.
Even so, the numbers make it difficult to identify a favorite when the teams meet for the first of three times this season on Saturday night in Phoenix.
Minnesota (13-15) has lost three in a row and is 2-11 on the road, tied for the second fewest road victories in the league. The Timberwolves have lost all 10 road games against Western Conference opponents this season, the latest a 140-131 loss at Sacramento.
The Suns (5-24) broke a 10-game losing streak with a 99-89 victory over the Dallas Stars, their fourth victory at home his season. At 4-11, the Suns are tied for the fewest home wins and most home losses in the league.
The Suns did it with defense Thursday. Dallas’ 89 points were the fewest scoring against them this season, and they limited the to Mavericks to 39.7 percent shooting from the field, including 5 of 33 from 3-point range.
Coach Igor Kokoskov cited energy, which at times has been lacking this season, as the Suns won for the first time in the six games that Devin Booker has missed with a left hamstring injury. Booker is not expected to return Saturday.
“Even when we made mistakes, we found a way to get defensive stops through effort,” Kokoskov said.
“Effort was there. Energy was there. Our defense scored for us. I can’t remember the last game when we had that many pass-aheads in transition. Defensive stops allowed us to run tonight and to have some points and some easy buckets in transition.”
TJ Warren had 30 points, his first 30-point game of the season, and the Suns had a season-high 23 takeaways leading to 14 fast-break points while beating the Mavericks for the seventh straight time.
“When you start a game with defensive stops and you convert those stops in fast-break points, it gives you confidence that you can compete and you can maybe win a game,” Kokoskov said.
“It’s not easy to sustain for 48 minutes, but we played unselfishly and we found a way.”
The Suns came together after veteran Jamal Crawford spoke to the team during the Thursday morning shoot-around.
“I just wanted us to get in the mindset of winning,” said Crawford, who had 17 points and tied a season high with five assists.
“I think we should start speaking it into existence. I thought everybody this morning was focused, everybody was locked in. Winning is a mindset, but so is losing. Isiah Thomas taught me that. For us, it’s about just trying to dig ourselves out of this hole. Trying to get better each day and building.”
Minnesota will play the final game of a four-game road trip that has included losses to Portland and Golden State. The Timberwolves entered the trip having won nine of 12 after trading Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia on Nov. 12.
The Timberwolves shot 53.8 percent from the floor against Sacramento. The Kings were even hotter, hitting 58.1 percent from the field and making a season-high 19 3-pointers on 38 attempts.
“There wasn’t no communication out there,” Derrick Rose told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “We didn’t get back, and how many transition points did they have? It seems like every time we play against them, they just push the ball. It’s that simple. It’s not very complex.”
The Kings ran past the Timberwolves for 33 fast-break points and scored 45 points in the fourth quarter. The 141 points were the most against Minnesota this season.
“The disappointment was in our defense,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters. “If you can’t play defense, you can’t win in this league. We gave them everything.”
Wiggins has scored at least 20 points in the last four games while shooting 52.2 percent from the field. He is averaging 21.1 points and shooting 50 percent from the field in 17 career games against the Suns.