Johnson: ‘I just have to keep it going’
MINNEAPOLIS — For three straight games, his minutes and points dwindled. He remained in the starting lineup, but with Luke Ridnour filling in admirably at shooting guard in J.J. Barea’s hamstring-induced absence and Wayne Ellington proving to be a capable replacement off the bench Friday, Wes Johnson needed to show a pulse.
Better four games late than never.
Johnson, who combined to score just 21 points in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first four games, knocked down all six of his attempts en route to a season-high 14 points in Monday’s 106-96 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. The second-year swingman played more than 29 minutes as Minnesota won back-to-back games for the first time since topping the Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz at home March 9 and 11, respectively, last season.
“I just needed to see it go in a couple times in a row,” Johnson said. “It felt good for it to drop. I just have to keep it going.”
Johnson averaged a shade under 28 minutes his first two games, but hit just five of 13 shots total, grabbed only five rebounds and turned the ball over four times.
With an opportunity for heavy minutes against the Miami Heat on Friday thanks to Barea’s strained left hamstring, Johnson instead piled up three more turnovers, hit two of the six 3-pointers he took and wound up playing just 17 minutes as Ellington hustled his way to 11 points, five rebounds and three steals in 31 minutes.
Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks was no better, as Johnson missed several shots badly and hit just one of his seven attempts. He played only 13 minutes — a mark he failed to eclipse just four times in 79 games as a rookie.
“I was getting frustrated,” Johnson said. “I’m a shooter so I definitely like to see my shot go in. But I couldn’t dwell on it.”
With Johnson’s play unable to get much worse, last season’s fourth overall pick shook off his 30.8 shooting percentage and hit both of his 3-point attempts, including a long-range bomb during Minnesota’s 14-5 run in the third quarter that extended the Timberwolves’ lead to a game-high 17 points.
“He took the shots that were there,” Adelman said. “Sometimes he’s been hesitant to take shots and try to do something else, which isn’t what’s good for him. He’s got to take the shots that come to him.”
Johnson didn’t do much elsewhere on the stat sheet — tallying two rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block to go with two turnovers — but was decent defensively and combined with Ridnour to give Minnesota’s starting backcourt 33 points on 13 of 16 shooting.
“It was good to see the ball just moving around, guys getting in good rhythms and hitting shots,” Ridnour said. “When we share the ball and move it, we’re a good team.”
The duo combined for 20 points in the first half as the Wolves shot 67.5 percent as a team to post 66 points in the first two quarters.
“If all of us can learn and just be a scoring unit when we’re first out there just to start it off I think we’re deadly,” Johnson said.
Johnson need only hit shots and play solid defense to continue being a fixture in the starting lineup and playing big minutes for a Wolves team gaining momentum. The defensive end is where Johnson feels the biggest difference from his rookie season, as he sees everyone moving, talking and contributing.
The unselfish play on both ends of the floor is a refreshing change of pace from Johnson’s 17-victory rookie campaign, when he averaged nine points per game on 39.7 percent shooting.
Johnson’s teammates expect him to shoot much better this season and were happy to see him find the bottom of the net Monday night.
“He’s a great shooter – he got those looks and knocked them down,” Ridnour said. “He’s going to have a great career, great season. I’m just excited for this team, putting two wins in a row together at home. I don’t think we did that at all last year.”
They actually did it twice — the aforementioned March victories and a pair of November games against the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers. But if Johnson continues to supplement Minnesota’s potent offense like he did Monday, the Wolves won’t have to think that hard to recall their winning streaks for much longer.”