Wizards find no shortage of silver linings in loss to Timberwolves

Wizards find no shortage of silver linings in loss to Timberwolves

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

MINNEAPOLIS — There’s only so much giddiness left to be had on court near the end of the NBA calendar year when your team has long been eliminated from the playoffs and already clinched the most losses in a season in franchise history.

But one thing that’s always fun? Playing the spoiler, even if just for a bit.

The Washington Wizards experienced three quarters of that Tuesday in a 130-121 loss that showed the duality of the Wizards experience. They walked onto the court at Target Center with their nine available players to line up against Rudy Gobert, Anthony Edwards and the West-leading Minnesota Timberwolves and gave them a fight.

Then the pendulum swung, and Edwards recorded a career-high 51-points on 17-for-29 shooting from the floor including 6-for-13 from three, mugging for the crowd with gusto afterward in celebration of the first 50-point game of his career.

April in the NBA can be a little funny like that.

The Timberwolves certainly felt the weirdness.

The pressure was on for the home team because they’re locked in a three-way battle with the Denver Nuggets (54-24) and Oklahoma City Thunder (54-25) for the first seed in the Western Conference. One game separates the three teams in the standings, and the Timberwolves (55-24) have a date with the Nuggets on Wednesday. The Wizards stumbled across their opponents daydreaming about Nikola Jokic and made hay.

“We wanted to play aggressively — attack the paint and kick out to make threes,” Wizards interim coach Brian Keefe said. “We did that, really great sharing the ball early in the game.”

The Timberwolves, with all their weapons and their top-rated defense in the NBA, didn’t take their first lead of the game until there was all of 2:02 left to play in the third quarter.

And no, Tuesday was not some grand crumbling for the Wizards despite that they lost a 21-point first-quarter lead. The Timberwolves beat the Toronto Raptors by 48 points a week ago. The fact that the Wizards (15-65) ever had a 21-point lead in the first place and weren’t just chum in the water was more the surprise.

The Wizards didn’t do anything particularly special other than stay calm, move the ball and share in the scoring. It was their offense that got them off to such a hot start — while Minnesota was sleepwalking, Washington was draining three-pointers.

It hit 9 of 13 attempts from long range to notch a franchise record for most three-pointers in the first quarter and drop 44 points on the Timberwolves, which is also the most points Minnesota has allowed in a single quarter all season.

“We’re learning what it takes to get good shots for us on offense, and we have guys who can get downhill and make plays for others… that was how we got the lead,” Keefe said. “We’re growing in those terms and realizing what our identity is, how we keep building that. The guys really played unselfishly tonight.”

Corey Kispert led with 25 points, including five three-pointers, and Jordan Poole was right behind him with 24 points. The Wizards had six players in double figures — all five starters and guard Johnny Davis, who had 10 points.

Edwards career-best haul meant the hip-hop classic “I Got 5 on It” — Edwards wears No. 5 — blared at Target Center after the final whistle.

“It’s hard. It’s hard [to keep Edwards off the ball],” Kispert said. “They kind of do everything through him, and he’s electric when he gets it in his hands… obviously that showed tonight. He got really hot, and we didn’t do a great job of cutting his water off. He was the reason why they came back and won.”

Nickeil Alexander-Walker stepped in to add 23 points off the bench after Naz Reid was ejected late in the first quarter for elbowing Davis in the head after a basket, which was deemed “unnecessary and excessive contact.”

Gobert added 19 points and 16 rebounds.

The Timberwolves, as unfocused as they were throughout the first half, chipped away steadily at Washington’s lead until a 39-point third quarter finally put them in front with Edwards, no surprise, leading the way. He took all the pressure his team seemed to be feeling and used it as jet fuel, pouring in 17 points in the third quarter.

“We could have done a little better job trying to get the ball out of his hands, but credit to him, he put them on his back,” Keefe said. ” … There’s a reason they’re one of the best teams in the West.”

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