The Timberwolves may have put the NBA — and the general viewing public — on notice Saturday night, Dec. 26, impressively dispatching Utah 116-111 en route to a 2-0 start to the season. They might actually be good, far sooner than anyone expected.
The Karl-Anthony Towns-led defense is strong. Jarrett Culver and Anthony Edwards are continuing their ascension, D’Angelo Russell’s shot making is shining and Minnesota is making all the little plays necessary to beat quality opponents on the road.
This was not expected from this young, unacclimated roster. There were supposed to be bumps in the early road as a roster filled with guys who haven’t spent much time together continued to try to grow and gel.
Perhaps that process is taking place in front of our very eyes. It was apparent late in the fourth quarter Saturday, as Minnesota — which out-played Utah for the majority of the night — faced multiple fourth-quarter charges from the veteran Jazz.
And the Wolves answered the call. That held true even as Towns missed late-game minutes after taking a hard fall onto his wrist with five minutes to play. Without their star big man, the Wolves stemmed the tide thanks to a series of clutch shots from Russell.
Towns returned for the final minute of action and made an instant impact. Up four with 50 seconds to play, Towns competed for an offensive rebound that earned the Wolves an extra possession that they used successfully, as Malik Beasley drove to the hoop to extend the lead back to six.
The Wolves’ late-game execution in consecutive games to open the season suggests this team may be more well-seasoned than originally expected. That’s certainly true of Edwards and Culver.
Edwards looks like a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, scoring 18 points Saturday on 8-for-12 shooting. His confidence and physical prowess continues to impress, as Edwards went at Rudy Gobert — the league’s top defensive center 3 and scored at the rim in the first half, something wings across the league struggle doing.
Culver’s rebound from a rocky rookie season is in full swing. He’s a strong defender who’s making shots. He tallied 14 points while going 3 for 3 from deep.
Russell had 25 points and six assists, and Towns had 16 points and 12 rebounds.
No one questioned the Wolves’ ability to score. That much was almost assumed. But where the Wolves are impressing many through two games is on the defensive end. Towns — considered a leak on that end of the floor for years — is providing a solid anchor around which everything is built. With Ricky Rubio, Josh Okogie and Culver, the Wolves have strong defensive wings.
There is certainly room to grow, but the makings of a good defensive team are more visible now than any time in the franchise’s recent history. Minnesota forced 18 turnovers while holding Utah to 38 percent shooting, including 29 percent from deep.
Utah had a chance to tie the game, down three points with 4.2 seconds to play. The Wolves didn’t even allow them to get the in-bounds pass into play. The ensuing five-second call sealed Minnesota’s victory. That whistle may have been the warning call to the rest of the league — look out for the Wolves.