ORLANDO – Just 24 hours after he kicked himself for not finishing a crucial shot and a winnable game at Brooklyn, Timberwolves third-year guard Zach LaVine did so Wednesday night in a 123-107 victory over the Orlando Magic.
The Wolves won for just the second time in seven games this young season, demonstrating this time that life in the NBA is easier when you build a big lead and hold onto a chunk of it.
They did it when LaVine set one career scoring record and tied another by making seven threes on a 37-point night that included a clutch three that shoved the Magic away just when it got close. He scored nine points in a 15-5 run that essentially won the game.
“He’s a shooter,” teammate Karl-Anthony Towns said. “I told him all yesterday to keep his head up. We don’t get to that point [Tuesday] without him doing what he does. When he steps on the court, he’s a difference maker. His energy gets transferred to us.”
After Tuesday’s loss, LaVine said he let himself and his team down by failing to finish layups, including an important one with the game on the line.
This time, LaVine made seven of nine three-point attempts for a Wolves team that stunningly leads the NBA in three-point percentage (41.4) after it tied for 25th among 30 teams last season.
This time, he tied his career-high 37 points reached at Golden State late in his rookie year by finishing his shots down the stretch when his team needed it.
“If you don’t feel like you performed well, you want to go and pick it back up,” LaVine said. “Knocking down shots is always a good thing. You put a lot of work into it, so you expect to make them.”
Losers three times already when they built big double-digit leads they couldn’t keep, the Wolves led by 30 points in the second quarter and this time never let the Magic get any closer than 11 points with five minutes left before they pushed back and pulled away.
“We definitely looked at each other,” Towns said. “We couldn’t let that happen again. We just tied our shoes even tighter.”
Playing the second night of back-to-back games while Orlando had Tuesday off, the Wolves’ 39 first-quarter points were their highest-scoring quarter of the season. Their 74 first-half points tied the second-highest scoring first half in franchise history.
“We got young legs,” Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins said. “I kind of like back-to-backs. I feel in rhythm because you just played yesterday.”
They’ve now scored at least 60 points in a first half five times this season. No other NBA team has done that more than three times.
“We’re capable,” Wiggins said when asked if his young team can learn to play like that all the time. “I feel like once we figure it out on a consistent basis, it’ll make life a lot easier.”
The Wolves won for the first time in nine days, but coach Tom Thibodeau wanted more: better defense, particularly in the second half.
Better play, even from LaVine, who followed Towns’ 33-point game at Oklahoma City on Saturday and Wiggins’ 36-point game at Brooklyn on Tuesday with a third 30-point game by a third player in consecutive games for only the second time in team history.
The other three to do it: Tony Campbell (31), Tyrone Corbin (36) and Sam Mitchell (31) a week into the team’s inaugural 1989-90 season.
“At times,” Thibodeau said when asked if LaVine finished better this time around, “but I expect more from him.”