Muhammad Lifts Wolves To 110-101 Win Over Suns

Wolves coach Rick Adelman hasn’t given Shabazz Muhammad a lot of minutes this season, but he’s been vocal with the rookie about his situation. With other wing players ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s been tough to distribute the playing time around. But there would come a moment when opportunity would present itself, and Muhammad would need to be ready to seize it.

That moment came Tuesday night in Phoenix. Muhammad took his coach’s advice.

The Wolves’ rookie scored 20 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, and helped provide energy throughout the game needed in a 110-101 win over the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. Muhammad stood out all night. He was aggressive and confident getting to the rim, which also opened up trips to the free-throw line, and he crashed the boards with the authority we’ve heard about since Training Camp.

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Wolves at Suns

It’s not like Muhammad flipped a switch. He’s been working hard in practice and staying late afterwards working with assistant coaches on his game. He trusted his coach about one day getting an opportunity, and he made the most of it.

“The coaching staff, they’re always supporting me and like I said, just trying to come in early, leave late, just trying to work my butt off,” Muhammad said. “And coach Adelman always says, like you’re going to get your chance, your opportunity. It came, and I thought I responded pretty well.”

The victory was incredibly well-timed. Minnesota had won three straight before running out of steam in Portland on Sunday, and losing a second straight on this five-game road trip would really put the Wolves in a serious predicament in the conference standings. Phoenix, which sits eighth, would’ve had a 7 ½ game lead on Minnesota with a win. With the loss on Tuesday, it’s just a 5 ½ game spread.

The way the Wolves did it was equally impressive. In January, the Wolves surrendered a six-point lead with less than two minutes left to Phoenix and lost 104-103. On Tuesday, the Wolves and Suns went back and forth but Phoenix opened up an eight-point lead with 7:57 to play. The Wolves needed to respond with intensity and energy on both ends of the court.

They did just that.

Minnesota chipped away at the score and cut it to 95-94 with 3:46 to play. That’s when Goran Dragic committed his sixth personal foul, sending Kevin Love to the line as Dragic—who is playing at an All-Star level this year—went to the bench. The Wolves went on a 13-2 run, including putting up 11 straight points, to secure the win.

“We talked about it,” Adelman said. “Five minutes to go in the game, there’s a timeout and we said the team that makes the stops is going to win the game. And you know, we were physical, rebounded the ball well and won the game.”

Kevin Love led all scorers with 33 points while adding 13 rebounds and nine assists. Muhammad had 20 points off the bench on 8-of-13 shooting while also grabbing six boards—three on the offensive glass. Corey Brewer had 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, Dante Cunningham had 12 and Ricky Rubio had 11 assists.

For the Suns, Markieff Morris had 24 off the bench, while Gerald Green had 19 and Dragic had 16.

Minnesota now gets three days off to rest up for the final two games on this trip, and they’ll hope to keep the momentum they gained on Tuesday as they head into the weekend.

“In Portland we felt like we let them get into too big of a groove,” Love said. “But to be able to respond it’s been great, February’s a short month, we don’t play again I don’t think until March 1. But we have two great opportunities on the road to finish this thing out.”

Leader of the Pack: Shabazz Muhammad

The Timberwolves rookie swingman hasn’t gotten a ton of playing time this year despite being the focal point on virtually every team he’s been on since grade school. But he didn’t sulk during those months when the minutes weren’t coming—he put in extra time after practice to get better. That showed on Monday night in Phoenix. He put up a career-high 20 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, through incredibly aggressive play that got him to the rim and to the line. But he also put together hustle plays on loose balls and offensive rebounding that really made the difference. “Sometimes young people don’t take that to heart when they’re not playing,” Adelman said. “We told him all along that it’s a long season here, and he had an opportunity with injuries and he really produced.”

Highlight of the Night

Muhammad made a game-changing play in the late moments of the fourth quarter. With the Wolves clinging to a 100-97 lead with 1:38 to play, Muhammad wrestled away an offensive rebound and instinctively found Corey Brewer on a baseline cut to the hoop. Brewer scored on a layup, and you could tell there was an extra spark of energy in this Timberwolves team from that moment forward. “I don’t know if it’s practice or what but I know Corey’s going to cut every time,” Muhammad said. “I was going to give it to Ricky, but I saw Brew cutting so I hit him. I think that was really a momentum-changer for us and helped us get a comfortable lead.”

The Numbers Game

  • Tonight was the fourth 30-plus point first quarter in the Wolves’ last five games. They’re averaging 31.0 points in the first quarter during that span and are shooting 51.6 percent in the first during those five games.

  • Love’s 33 points gives him 30-plus points in six consecutive games. That extends his franchise record for consecutive 30-point games. He set the record on Sunday in Portland, surpassing Kevin Garnett’s previous mark of four.

  • Postgame Podcast

    Wolves 110, Suns 101

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  • Shabazz Muhammad’s previous career high was 12 points, which he set Feb. 8 against Portland. He had 10 points in the fourth quarter alone on 4-of-6 shooting Tuesday.

  • Minnesota shot 61.9 percent from the field in the fourth quarter while holding the Suns to 31.8 percent during the final 12 minutes. The Suns also turned the ball over four times in the fourth, while Minnesota did not commit a fourth quarter turnover.

  • The Wolves out-rebounded the Suns 50-38 and held an 18-9 edge in second chance points. The Suns were 3-of-16 in second-chance points opportunities.

  • Looking Ahead

    The Wolves have a bit of a break after tonight’s game. They’ll spend the next two days in Phoenix, practicing and getting a mini-vacation from the NBA season in before heading to Sacramento for a game against the Kings on Saturday night. That tipoff is set for 9 p.m. CT on Fox Sports North and 830 WCCO-AM. They’ll then head to Denver for a game against the Nuggets on Monday at 8 p.m. CT on Fox Sports North Plus and 830 WCCO-AM.

    For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter.