The NBA’s “Next Man Up” mantra became next men up Sunday in the Timberwolves’ 125-99 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers at Target Center.
Missing injured Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad and Brandon Rush, the Wolves found a winning performance for the third time in nine games from both expected and unexpected places.
Five nights after he set a career scoring high at Brooklyn, young star Andrew Wiggins did it again, this time with a 47-point night that made him the 13th man in franchise history to reach at least 40 points in a game.
There were other performances as well: Ricky Rubio playing like his old self from the opening tip in his second game back from injury, Nemanja Bjelica’s five three-pointers made and 24 points scored after he made his first NBA start to replace LaVine (sore right knee), even little-used Adreian Payne and his 10 points scored in just nine minutes for a depleted bench against one of the NBA’s best.
“We needed everyone,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said.
They needed Rubio’s organization and 10 assists, Bjelica’s length and floor-stretching shooting ability, Payne’s two three-pointers on a night when the Wolves made 13 threes to the Lakers’ eight.
Most of all, they need Wiggins’ continued development — almost by the week now — that Thibodeau refuses to quantify.
Wiggins scored 36 points in Tuesday’s 119-110 loss at Brooklyn, a performance LaVine said he didn’t consider wasted in defeat because he believed there will be 50- and 55-point nights from his gifted teammate in the near future.
LaVine wasn’t far off. Just five days later, an announced crowd at 14,432 groaned in the game’s final minutes when Wiggins’ final three-point attempt missed — equal to the Lakers starters’ combined total but three points shy of the magical 50 mark.
“Not as bad as me,” Wiggins said when asked how badly he thought the crowd wanted that three to fall.
He was removed from the game with 71 seconds left on a night when his team led by 23 points at halftime and by just eight points four times early in the fourth quarter before the Wolves ended the game with a 15-1 run over the final 3:44.
Wiggins needed 21 field-goal attempts — including two made threes — and 17-for-22 free throw shooting to join everyone from Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Corey Brewer and Mo Williams to Michael Beasley, Isaiah Rider, Tony Campbell and Randy Breuer as the only 13 Wolves player who scored at least 40 in a game.
“I shot 24 times yesterday and Coach Thibs told me to be more aggressive,” Wiggins said, referring to Saturday’s home loss to the Clippers. “So I said, ‘All right,’ and I just went for it.”
Thibodeau has coached talented wing players before, Tracy McGrady and Jimmy Butler among them.
“Not only there, but defensively, too,” Thibodeau said when asked about urging Wiggins to be more aggressive offensively. “He’s smart. He’s driven. I think sometimes people mistakenly take it that he’s laid back. He’s competitive. He’s just scratching the surface. I think he can be a lot more. … I don’t want to put a lid on it. It’s what he wants it to be.”
Now scoring 26.3 points a game and shooting 54.8 percent from three-point range, Wiggins seems to be growing by the game on offense.
“I’m finding myself,” he said. “I’m finding things I’m good at, finding things I have to work on. The game has kind of slowed down for me. I’m able to read a lot of different defenses and how they’re playing me.”
After Wiggins did all that, his pal LaVine showered him with sports drink from a cup as Wiggins did a postgame television interview.
“Unexpected,” Wiggins said.