Preseason is in full swing in the NBA. The exhibition season is often synonymous with a lack of juice, particularly from marquee players as everyone of note simply works to ramp themselves up to regular season game shape and form.
That has yet to be the case with Minnesota.
While the end result isn’t particularly important — the Timberwolves edged Denver 114-112 in overtime on the road to improve to 2-0 in preseason play — the intensity the Wolves continue to bring two games in is a welcomed sight for a team that’s lacked a consistent competitive drive for years.
During Friday’s contest, one of the officials actually told Timberwolves coach Chris Finch that this was the firs game the official had worked that felt as though it featured a regular season intensity.
“So that was good to hear,” Finch said. “That’s probably been the brightest spot of a lot of good things so far is that our team spirit is really high. Guys are playing hard and they’re playing for each other. We’ve got to continue to keep pushing ourselves to get in top top shape. This was a good night for that playing in altitude and playing a really good team.”
Karl-Anthony Towns said Minnesota is treating each of these games as if they’re the real deal.
“We not wasting no days and no games,” he said. “We take this very, very serious. While our execution may not have been there, the intensity, the competitiveness, the fire was there. We gotta be more locked in mentally to what our assignments are.”
One player who didn’t necessarily play with the utmost fire and passion was D’Angelo Russell. It was a stark 180-degree turn for the point guard, who was hyper-engaged in Minnesota’s preseason opener.
But on Friday, Russell played an uninspired 24 minutes in which he settled for bad shots — going 3 for 12 from the field — and lacked much in the way of urgency.
That may have leaked into the starting lineup, which featured Russell, Towns, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels and Jarred Vanderbilt on Friday. That was a change from Monday’s lineup, with Vanderbilt plugged in for Okogie. Finch said prior to the game that Minnesota may go with a different starting lineup in each of its four exhibition contests as the Wolves tinker with different combinations.
The team got off to a slow start Friday, digging itself an early 21-6 hole.
The reserves dug Minnesota out of that deficit, and many other deficits throughout the night. Finch has repeatedly raved about the team’s depth, and that continues to show itself in exhibition games that feature most of the roster in action.
It was Jaylen Nowell who specifically shined Friday. The scoring guard finished with 12 points in 13 minutes. All 12 of those points came in the final 5 minutes, 22 seconds of game action.
“I was feeling extreme confidence no matter if I played two minutes, 30 minutes, I just made sure whenever I get my name called I just stay the same, even keel,” Nowell said. “That’s always been my whole life, so I was just staying confident and to hit those shots, it was great. I kind of expect to hit those type of shots. Those are some of my best shots I like to shoot. So I just made sure to get to my spots and put it up.”
Nowell scored six points in the final 22 seconds of regulation, including a four-point play and a finish at the rim with just three seconds to play to send the game to the extra session.
In overtime, Nowell went on a personal 6-0 run to close the game out, capped by the game-winning jumper with 10 seconds to play. It will be tough for reserves to secure roles in Minnesota’s rotation, but Nowell is making his case.
“His defense has been really good. That’s what we’ve needed him to do,” Finch said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can put the ball in the hoop. He’s elite at that. He keeps playing like that, he’s going to make it into the rotation, and maybe in a more regular manner.”