The Washington Wizards beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 135-121 on Sunday night. Here are five observations from the game...
1. Though 19 games remain in the 2018-19 regular season, the Wizards are in the middle of a nine-or-so-game stretch that is likely to determine their playoff fate. The stakes are getting higher and higher as their window in the Eastern Conference standings is slowly closing. But, to their credit, they are starting to show some life.
The Wizards knocked off the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Sunday night to make it two wins in three games. That is considerable progress, as it follows a stretch of nine losses in 12 games. Washington is now 26-37.
So much work remains if they are to make the postseason. They will likely have to go 12-7 or better in these final 19 games to get the eighth seed.
But perhaps the tide is starting to turn, if slightly. They certainly aren't dead yet. It also helps that the Magic and the Hornets, the No. 8 and 9 teams in the East, both lost on Sunday.
2. At practice on Saturday, Wizards coach Scott Brooks described Karl-Anthony Towns as a "monster." Against the Wizards, Towns lived up to the billing.
Though they had some early success against him by keeping Towns scoreless through his first seven minutes, once he got going there was no stopping him. He had 17 points in his final 10 minutes of the first half and had 28 for the game.
The Wizards tried everything. The double-teamed him, the rushed him at the three-point line with hands in his face. He just casually shot or passed over them. When they closed out, he drove by his defender and dropped in effortless hook shots.
The Wizards, though, technically slowed Towns down. He came in averaging 38.7 points and 18.7 rebounds in his last three games. He had 28 and 10 in this one.
And though Towns got his offensively, Bobby Portis had a big game of his own. Portis went off for 26 points and 12 rebounds, with Towns often guarding him.
3. Towns helped the Wolves absolutely dominate the Wizards in the paint early on. Minnesota had 30 paint points in the first quarter alone. By halftime, they had 52, more than they average for games this season (49.5). They finished with 84.
Defending the lane has been an issue for the Wizards all season with the absence of a true rim protector. They allow the seventh-most points in the paint per game this season (51.0). Over their last 10 games entering Sunday's match-up, only two teams were giving up more paint points than the Wizards.
As I wrote last week, defense has to be the Wizards' biggest offseason priority and someone who can block and alter shots may top the list of needs. Having Dwight Howard would help, but he wasn't blocking shots during his nine-game stint this season.
4. Is Troy Brown Jr. part of the Wizards' rotation now? It sure seems that way.
He logged 17 minutes on Sunday. It was the third straight game he's played at least 10 minutes, the longest such streak of his young career.
Brown again played well. He had only two points, but five rebounds, four assists and a steal. He had some nice moments in the first half with offensive rebounds on back-to-back possessions. On one of them, he quickly scored a layup.
It was one of those plays that showed he has impressive basketball instincts, especially for a 19-year-old. He has a great feel for the game at his age. That gift will only become more apparent the more he plays.
Whether he will keep playing, however, remains to be seen. Brooks has shown no indication he's willing to give Brown a consistent role just yet.
5. Speaking of rotation changes, Sam Dekker saw some action. It was the only the second time he's played at all since Feb. 6 and the first time not in a blowout.
Dekker played well, too. He had 11 points in 15 minutes, making the most of what has become a rare opportunity.
Dekker was a rotation mainstay until the trades to bring in Jabari Parker and Wesley Johnson. They have pushed him out of the forward mix. Johnson, though, had a rough game against Minnesota, perhaps paving the way for Dekker to get some rare floor time.
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