• The Suns hung around the first half and it was looking like it was going to be a repeat of the last matchup between these two teams, where Phoenix struck late and stole a win from the Wolves.

    Minnesota wasn’t about to let that happen again. It was basically a six-man effort for the Wolves tonight. With Teague and Bjelica out again, Jones and Dieng stepped up their game and the rest of the starters played tremendous basketball as well.

    A five-point lead at half grew to a 13-point lead after the third quarter and the Wolves extended it to 18 points at one point in the fourth before the Suns made a little run late with the game out of hand.

    There were a number of highlight performances in this game, led by Karl-Anthony Towns who scored 32 points with 12 rebounds, two assists, one block and two 3-pointers. Jimmy Butler was right behind him with 25 points, five assists, four rebounds, three steals and one block.

    Taj Gibson double-doubled with 16 points and 14 rebounds, adding three assists and a steal. Wiggins scored 21 points with five rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block and four 3-pointers.

    The line of the night though goes to Tyus Jones. Filling in for Teague Jones scored only nine points, but dished seven assists, grabbed four rebounds, swiped seven steals, blocked two shots and nailed one 3-pointer, while not committing a single turnover.

    It’s too soon to declare Jones an upgrade over Teague, but it does raise potential questions going forward. Teague was never a perfect fit for the Wolves. As an offense-first point guard, it was questionable why the Wolves were quick to lock Teague up on a team full of ball-dominant players.

    On top of that, his defense is shaky at best when he’s engaged and poor when he’s not, which is far too often. While two games of Jones isn’t enough to anoint him the starter going forward, 18 games of Teague is enough to at least question his fit.

    What Jones brings to the Wolves’ lineup is exactly what the starters need, a bulldog on defense, someone who makes the extra pass, and can hit their deep shots. Jones can play as the lead guard or off the ball. He makes the correct rotations on defense and is able to pressure the ball.

    He also doesn’t need to take 10-plus shots per game to be effective, as seen today with his stat line. His style of play opens up shots for the players around him. Today, Towns made 12-of-26 shots, Butler made 11-of-19 shots, Wiggins made 8-of-18 shots and Gibson made 8-of-12 shots. Jones only made 3-of-6 because that’s all they needed him to take.

    Again, it’s too soon to pencil Jones into the starting lineup consistently because once Teague is healthy he’ll jump right back in. It does at least give the Wolves some thoughts moving towards trade season though. Starting on December 14, players who signed as free agents this past offseason are eligible to be traded.

    As mentioned in previous recaps, the Wolves could explore their trade options with the Clippers. It just so happens that Teague, Justin Patton and Cole Aldrich’s salaries matchup perfectly with DeAndre Jordan and Milos Teodosic.

    It’s normally a fool’s errand trying to predict trades, so there won’t be much of that here, but this one could be intriguing come January.

    The bench for Minnesota played poor, as expected with the injuries, but they were borderline unwatchable tonight. Consistent rotation issues continue to plague everyone on the Wolves. Tonight it was Crawford and Towns that were the main culprits.

    On normal help/rotation defense on pick-and-rolls, the screener’s man stays with the ball until his teammate is able to recover. On the back-side of the screen, help defense is supposed to come over and cover the screener if he slips or pops out.

    Consistently on the season, there has been no back-side help and the screener has been left wide open. It seems to have developed some bad habits or trust issues because now the screener’s man has resorted to leaving the ball early to get back on his man, leaving the live dribbler open.

    Below are two examples of this problem.

    In this first clip (courtesy of Dane Moore, a great follow for Timberwolves analysis), Dieng bailed on the ball too early and went back to his screener, perhaps as a lack of trust.

    And here Dieng does what he’s supposed to do but the back-side help doesn’t rotate.

    This last clip illustrates a problem Towns has had since entering the league that has not been fixed to this day. He consistently leaves his feet on impossible block attempts when all he needs to do is stick his hands up and keep his feet in rebounding position.

    Instead after he leaves his feet, his man is wide open for an offensive rebound and put back.

    These are the issues consistent with every game that need to be cleaned up. Is it on the coaches or the player at the moment? Tough to say. It would probably be fair to blame everyone at this point.

    Going forward the Wolves complete their four-game homestand versus the Wall-less Wizards on Tuesday, another winable game.

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