MEMPHIS – A season after he faced what he called the greatest individual challenge of his rookie season, Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns met Memphis star Marc Gasol again in Wednesday’s season opener.
At age 20, Towns considers himself something of a changed man who’s better prepared to face the two-time All Star and 2013 NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
“I feel I’m stronger, faster, more agile,” Towns said. “I do a few more things with my body than I did last year. I’ve improved my game, added some new toys. I feel very comfortable.”
Towns delivered a 31-point, nine-rebound performance in 24½ minutes during a preseason game last week against Memphis and Gasol, who is on a playing-time restriction in his return from foot surgery last season.
After a fast start, Towns didn’t have quite as much success. He finished with 21 points, but 14 of them came in the first quarter, and he had just four rebounds. Gasol, who was guarded by Gorgui Dieng most of the night, was limited to 18 points and three rebounds.
Towns doesn’t think there was anybody better when he played a healthy Gasol last season.
“Hands down, he was the most challenging matchup,” Towns said. “It’s just his ability to pass, his ability to shoot. He can play fundamentally sound and unfundamentally sound and score both ways. He’s about 260, 270 pounds. He’s a big guy in there. He takes up a lot of space.
“There are a lot of things that challenge you when you go up against Marc Gasol.”
Wolves rookie Kris Dunn made his NBA debut, coming off the bench behind starting point guard Ricky Rubio.
“All my life,” he said of his wait for that first NBA game. “I’ve been playing the game for so long, been watching so many NBA games. Now the time is here.”
Dunn finished with eight points on 4-for-6 shooting and four rebounds in 15 minutes of playing time.
Back at it
Wednesday’s game was the first meaningful one new Wolves president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau coached since Cleveland thumped his Bulls at home in Game 6 of the 2015 playoffs’ second round.
He took a sabbatical last season, traveling around the NBA to see how other franchises operate.
Asked if he remembers where he was on opening night last season, Thibodeau said: “I don’t. I think I was somewhere. I may have been in Charlotte.”
In a comfort zone
At age 28, Wolves forward Nemanja Bjelica started his second NBA season. Like Towns, he also feels more prepared. Expect Thibodeau to rely upon his scoring and playmaking with the second unit.
“I have a different role now,” Bjelica said. “When I’m on the court, I feel comfortable. I feel good. Coach trusts me. I’m happy for that.”
Bjelica struggled to stay on the court last season because of foul trouble. A year later, he knows NBA officials and they know him better.
“This is one of the things,” he said before the game. “We’ll see tonight.”
Bjelica struggled in his 15 minutes of playing time, scoring just three points on 1-for-3 shooting and grabbing just one rebound.
• Grizzlies guard Tony Allen didn’t play because of a knee injury that just hasn’t healed. Forward Chandler Parsons still is recovering from March knee surgery. He and Brandan Wright (ankle) also didn’t play. Injured Wolves center Nikola Pekovic and guard John Lucas III were inactive.
• The Wolves played their first five preseason games on the road and also will do so for the regular season’s first two games. And that’s just fine with Thibodeau. “I think you have to have a toughness on the road,” he said, “and an understanding of what goes into winning on the road.”
• Former Gophers and new University of Memphis coach Tubby Smith attended the game.