The Washington Wizards beat the Timberwolves 132-114 in Minnesota on Tuesday night. Here are five observations from what went down...
Eliminated from the postseason and seemingly with little to play for, the Wizards are all of a sudden playing some of their best basketball of the season. Well, Sunday's 42-point loss to the Celtics not included. But even with that defeat, they have won five of their last seven after beating the Timberwolves on the road Tuesday night.
Believe it or not, they haven't won this many games in a seven-game stretch since mid-November, when they were 10-3. It's unexpected and some might argue to no avail, but it's happening.
This isn't going to help their draft lottery odds, of course, but the Wizards are hoping they can build some momentum going into next season. Just the other day, Kristaps Porzingis brought up the 2019-20 Phoenix Suns and how they went undefeated in the Orlando bubble to close the year.
After that season, they traded for Chris Paul and the next year were in the NBA Finals. Porzingis made sure to say he wasn't making a direct comparison, but perhaps the takeaway is that the Suns' positive trajectory helped them convince Paul to join them. Maybe that's a potential benefit to the Wizards winning, that they can use their progress to attract others.
Who knows? That's to be determined this summer. For now, the Wizards are winning like they haven't been able to in months.
In the roughly a month since Porzingis joined the Wizards lineup, we hadn't seen a ton of experimenting from head coach Wes Unseld Jr. in terms of him playing with other centers on the roster. That was until Tuesday night when Porzingis was out there for multiple stretches alongside Daniel Gafford, giving the Wizards a lot of length and size in their frontcourt.
It was just the early returns, but the two seemed to put a good deal of pressure on the Wolves' defense. Porzingis is the biggest player on the court and can score both inside and out. Gafford, meanwhile, is very fast for his position and is a rim-running threat in the pick-and-roll. They both also block shots and have some potential as a rebounding duo. For the game, Porzingis had 25 points and eight boards while Gafford put in 24 points and 11 rebounds.
Gafford was great
Porzingis was his usual self, but Gafford really seemed to benefit from playing alongside the 'Unicorn.' There was a lot of space for him to roam and the result was one of his best games in a while. Gafford shot 10-for-11 from the field and scored his 24 points in 31 minutes.
One guy who did not benefit from the change was Thomas Bryant, who had finally got some decent minutes over the weekend in the blowout loss against the Celtics. He remained out of the rotation in this one, as Unseld Jr. rolled with only nine guys. Anthony Gill and Raul Neto were also on the outside looking in. All three are impending free agents.
Not much defense
This was a great game for those who like offense and not so much for those who prefer defense. There was a lot of scoring and not many stops. The Wizards, for instance, were trailing by three points at the end of the first quarter despite shooting 62.5% from the field and 5-for-9 from three. They had seven threes and 38 points in the paint in the first half, yet only led by one point. They had 101 points through three quarters and for the game, they shot 55.4% and made 13 triples.
The reason they weren't up big is because the Timberwolves were also scoring well. Karl Anthony-Towns had a big game with 26 points, including 15 in the first quarter. Malik Beasley went off for 14 points on four threes. Minnesota made 14 threes as a team. The Wizards, though to their credit, were much better defensively in the first half and as a result, they got the win.
A model to follow?
You wouldn't have known it by watching this game, but the Timberwolves have made tremendous strides defensively this season. They have been much better on both ends of the floor, but the improvement on defense seems noteworthy to the Wizards, who will hope to make a big jump in that area next season. Minnesota went from the 28th-ranked defense to 13, so basically they jumped half of the league. And they did it without overhauling their personnel to a significant degree.
The Wolves had some young, athletic forwards like Jaden McDaniels and Jarrod Vanderbilt who took steps forward and they brought in Pat Beverley, but the improvement wasn't due to wholesale change. They also went from an average 3-point shooting team to one of the best in the league. Defense and 3-point shooting are the two things the Wizards probably need to fix more than anything this summer. Maybe they can learn something from how the Timberwolves did it.