Game 5 seen as a test of growth for Timberwolves

April 26, 2018

HOUSTON – Down 3-1 in their playoff series against Houston after Monday’s Game 4 shellacking, the Timberwolves played their second elimination game in two weeks Wednesday that tested just how much they have – or haven’t – grown this season.

They beat Denver in overtime on the regular season’s final day, advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and sending the Nuggets home for the summer.

On Wednesday, the Wolves faced a challenge four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler called a “totally different environment and situation.”

It was Game 5 of a best-of-seven series against the Rockets, the NBA playoffs’ No. 1 seed after a 65-17 regular-season record.

“We’ve grown a lot from the beginning to now,” Wolves All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns said before the game. “It’s amazing how we started, how much more disciplined, mature we are. We understand each other more. We have to use all that experience we garnered this year for this game, going back home and coming back here if we expect to win this series.”

Wanted and winning

Butler’s possible return to the Chicago Bulls after he can become a free agent in summer 2019 was the subject of speculation in a Chicago Sun-Times story Tuesday.

In a Monday interview with the newspaper, Butler sounded like a man who doesn’t understand why his younger teammates aren’t driven to win or improve like he is. Eligible to sign a contract extension with the Wolves as early as this summer, Butler said his long-term future will be based upon “being wanted and winning.”

“Young guys in this league don’t understand urgency,” Butler told the paper. “These guys don’t understand that you never know what the league brings, the times may bring. I think they do understand what it takes to win here and they continue to learn that. Decisions I make, the money, my contract, all of that will handle itself.

“I don’t ever worry about my money. I already have enough money for the rest of my life. It’s all about winning.”

Meek is free

At February’s Super Bowl, Towns wore a Philadelphia Eagles jersey on which the message “Free Meek Mill” was stitched. On Wednesday, he was pleased the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the 30-year-old rapper’s immediate released from prison a day earlier.

Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and rapper Jay-Z all supported his release from what they considered an unjust two-to-four-year sentence in November for a probation violation from a 2009 gun and drug case.

So, too, did Towns, in his own way.

“It was cool,” Towns said. “I thought he deserved to be home. He has been through a lot. I’m happy he’s getting some right done to his life. He deserves it. … I’m just happy he’s home and he’s seeing outside.”

Back where 76ers belong

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni was Philadelphia’s associate head coach beside Brett Brown for five months during the 2015-16 season when the 76ers were in the process of winning only 10 games. Two seasons later, they won 52 and beat Miami 4-1 Tuesday in a first-round playoff series.

“I’m really happy for them,” D’Antoni said. “They’ve done an unbelievable job. They’ve been patient. They developed the young guys. … They’re just a good story. They’re one of the storied franchises and they’re back where they should be.”

Unlike any other

Back from a sprained ankle for a third consecutive game, forward Ryan Anderson fairly marvels at playing for the Rockets, so unlike the other teams — New Jersey, Orlando and New Orleans — he’s played on in his 10-year career.

“I’ve never played on a team like that,” said Anderson, after the Rockets scored a near-record 50 points against the Wolves in Game 4’s third quarter. “We can flip a switch on, it’s pretty unbelievable. It just shows we are in control. If we play our best basketball, we know we’re going to win the game. We just have so many weapons and so many ways we can score and defend.”


• Wolves point guard Jeff Teague started as usual after he dislocated his pinkie finger in Game 4, popped it back in place and played on after a brief stop in the locker room. Thibodeau called the dislocation “a weird sort of thing” and added “that hurt him some, but he’s fine [Wednesday].”

• Reserve point guard Tyus Jones also called himself ready to play after he missed Game 4 because of a sore knee.

• After Monday’s 50-point third quarter, D’Antoni was asked if his team might have something more in it. “I don’t expect us, but it’d be nice,” he said. “We’d almost have to make every shot and that might happen. But 50 is like a triple-double: One less rebound, nobody cares. You get 48, that’s still pretty good.”