* Tonight on TNT: Timberwolves vs. Trail Blazers (10:30 ET)
The Minnesota Timberwolves experienced their first taste of long-term life without All-Star Jimmy Butler on Monday, scoring a 118-100 win against the Sacramento Kings. Butler is out indefinitely as he heals up from a meniscus injury, leaving the Wolves to find a fill-in player for his starting role for the time being.
Enter Nemanja Bjelica, who has taken on the starting role as the Timberwolves try to maintain a top-four seed in the Western Conference playoff chase. The Wolves know that Bjelica won't replace the 22.2 points per game Butler averages or anything else in that department, but remain confident he adds a unique flavor to the lineup. Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune has more:
At 6-10, there’s nothing small about Bjelica except a small forward’s skill set when it comes to his playmaking and perimeter shooting. He’s the Wolves’ best three-pointer shooter by percentage, at 42.9.
With a team that he says now must be better collectively more than individually, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau noted Bjelica’s seven rebounds (six of them defensive) at a position where Wiggins has not rebounded the ball efficiently. Gorgui Dieng had six rebounds off the bench, too.
“Belly giving us seven, ‘G’ giving us six, that goes a long way,” Thibodeau said. “We need everybody to contribute in that way. That stuff, it’s not unimportant to winning. Get seven rebounds out of that position and having that length is a big plus for us. Just the threat of his shot opens up the floor, and he also moves really well without the ball."
If Bjelica struggles with some small-forward matchups offensively, Taj Gibson promises Bjelica’s teammates will lift him up.
“Whatever mismatch he has, we’re going to help him,” Gibson said. “We’re going to have his back 100 percent. That’s one thing about good teams, playoff-bound teams: You hide your weaknesses. You guard it and play through it with your strengths, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
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