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Three Observations From The Wolves' Win Over Wizards

by Julian Andrews
Web Editorial Associate Follow

Karl-Anthony Towns flexed his star power in a close win over the Wizards in Washington on Tuesday. His prowess in this game is well-documented, but in case you missed it, here’s what he did last night:

Thirty-seven points on 13-for-17 (76.5 percent!!) shooting from the field, 3-for-3 from the 3-point line and 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. Oh, and he added 10 rebounds to extend his league-leading double-double total to 58.

The victory was an important one. With nearly all of the Wolves’ Western Conference rivals winning as well, beating the Wizards allowed Minnesota to keep pace and remain in sixth. They are still only a half game out of fourth place.

Towns was impossible to miss, but his incredible play wasn’t the only takeaway from last night’s game. Here are three observations from the Wolves’ win:

Defending the victory

Last Sunday, the Wolves were tied with the Warriors going into the fourth quarter, in this one, they were down by eight.

Both times, Minnesota came away with the victory.

In each case, the Wolves played their best defensive quarters in the final period, allowing only 19 points to the Warriors, and 21 to the Wizards.

This is an incredibly positive sign for the Wolves going forward. Minnesota is a below-average defensive team, but if they can develop the ability to consistently lock down with games on the line, it would give their upper-tier offense more of a chance.

This may seem obvious—of course playing better defense leads to more wins—but so often at this point in the year, a team’s season can come down to one or two plays. Clearly Minnesota should be trying to play the best defense they can over entire games, and relying on the ability to flip a switch defensively is dangerous, but it’s good to know that if they can keep things close, the Wolves can get stops when it matters.

Let’s hope this trend continues.

Bjelica keeping his cool

Nemanja Bjelica has been asked to do more during Jimmy Butler’s absence than he has at any other point in his career, and so far, he has delivered.

High expectations and pressure might cause some players to panic if their shots aren’t falling, but not Bjelica. This poise was on display last night.

Bjelica shot 2-for-11 through three quarters against the Wizards, but he didn’t stop playing hard, and he didn’t lose his confidence. Instead, Bjelica continued to take good shots in the flow of the Wolves offense and made all five of his fourth-quarter attempts.

He hit two threes, finished an alley-oop from Tyus Jones, scored on a driving layup, and made a long two-point jumper, also on an assist from Jones.

Perhaps most importantly, Bjelica didn’t let his shooting struggles prevent him from impacting the game in other ways. He finished with a team-high seven assists, gathered eight rebounds, a steal, and a blocked shot, and played more minutes than anyone except for the transcendent Towns.

Bjelica’s emergence has been really fun to watch.

Threes in the fourth

Heading into the fourth quarter against Washington, the Wolves had hit only three three-point shots on 16 attempts.

That is an unusually low number of three-pointers. While the Wolves shoot the fewest threes of any team in the league, they have several capable shooters on the team, and average about eight makes from beyond the arc per game.

The Wolves regressed to the mean in the best way in the fourth quarter against the Wizards. Towns and Bjelica each hit a pair from beyond the arc, bringing the Wolves to 7-for-21 (33 percent) from three on the game. That’s respectable.

The Wolves’ relationship with the three-point line is a complicated one. While they aren’t a great three-point shooting team, they aren’t a horrible one, and the threat of the three keeps the paint open for players like Towns and Andrew Wiggins who do very well inside.

The Wolves’ next game is on Saturday in San Antonio. Stay tuned.