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Bench continues to give Timberwolves a lift

The Timberwolves have fallen on hard times when it comes to injuries this season. So hard that the league granted the Wolves a hardship exception to sign a new player to a 10-day contract, Mitch Creek, who previously played with the Nets on a pair of 10-day deals.

But those that are left are still giving maximum effort and the bench again produced in the Wolves 118-109 loss to the 76ers on Saturday.

It was the bench that led a charge late in the third and early in the fourth quarter that helped trim a double-digit Philadelphia lead to three. Gorgui Dieng had another strong game, scoring 13 points on 6 of 8 shooting. Keita Bates-Diop, Anthony Tolliver and Cameron Reynolds all provided solid minutes and the four combined to shoot 15 of 20. The only player bringing the bench’s numbers down was Jerryd Bayless, who had a tough night shooting 2 of 11.

“There’s just an energy and an edge,” interim coach Ryan Saunders said of the bench.

It was the bench that also helped bring the Wolves back in their victory over Golden State on Friday night. The season may be lost, but perhaps the confidence players like Reynolds and Bates-Diop are mounting can be a positive for the Wolves headed into next season. Same goes for Dieng, who has had a tumultuous season in and out of the rotation.

“It’s tough, but it makes you stronger, right?” Dieng said Friday. “I’ve been through this before and I’m back at it again. Just trying to stay ready and work on my game every day because you never know. The worst part is you’re not ready and when they call you, you can’t play the way they need you.”

Wiggins’ scoring binge
Andrew Wiggins scored 24 points on 9 of 18 shooting Saturday. It marked the sixth consecutive game he has scored 20 or more points in a game, his longest such streak of the season. Saunders said Wiggins’ points are coming more naturally in the flow of the offense.

“I’d like to say it’s something different because it’s not like we’re force feeding him the ball with things,” Saunders said. “He’s getting a lot of his scores in the open court in other ways. Early in his career, his first and second year … I was here for that, we were trying to, I guess you could say, force feed him the ball. As you keep doing that you’re going to have more opportunities to score. Here he’s getting it more within the system, within the offense and the flow.”

Towns’ struggles continue
On the flip side, Karl-Anthony Towns had another tough night getting going offensively. He finished with 21 points on 8 of 17 shooting. Over his last three games, Towns is 19 of 51 from the floor (37 percent).  

“I feel good,” Towns said. “I feel the same way it was when I was on the streak. It’s just not going in. I’m getting in and outs and everything. You’ve got to shoot yourself out of it.”


Towns evades foul trouble in big night vs. Memphis

MEMPHIS – Karl-Anthony Towns danced around foul trouble all night, picking up two in the first quarter and finishing with four before the end of the third quarter.

But in the end it didn’t affect him much as he had another monster effort in the Wolves’ 112-99 win over Memphis.

Towns scored 33 points and had 23 rebounds, the seventh time this season he has scored at least 20 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in a game. The Wolves may be out of playoff contention but Towns still has something to play for – if he makes another All-NBA team, his maximum contract extension can increase from around $158 million over the next five years to around $190 million. Night like Saturday will help with that.

As for the evaded foul trouble, Towns brushed it off.

“I’m used to it,” Towns said. “Just find a way to be productive even with fouls and try to be the best version of myself. We needed to get a win, especially on the road.”

Interim coach Ryan Saunders said he thought Towns dealt with the foul trouble well.

“He kept his head nicely tonight,” Saunders said. “He didn’t let things get to him. His teammates were really good with him during timeouts, when he was on the bench. He did a good job of keeping his composure.”

Performances like this from Towns have become the norm, especially since around late December, when Towns’ season really took off.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Andrew Wiggins said. “He’s been amazing this year, especially the All-Star break. He’s just been doing things that are unreal.”

Wiggins has an efficient night
Wiggins had one of his most efficient games in a while, scoring 22 points on 9 of 15 shooting.

“He’s been really aggressive the last few games,” Saunders said. “That’s what we’re looking for. … We’re going to continue to work to improve. That was one of the challenges that’s been put in front of Andrew, and it’s nice when guys accept those challenges.”

At times, Wiggins handled point guard duties with Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose out for the remainder of the season, something that will be the norm the rest of the season.

Wiggins added: “I’ve just been trying to drive to the rim more and take easier shots, let the game come to me. I feel like it has been working.”

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