The Timberwolves locker room opened up Monday night and Karl-Anthony Towns was sitting at his locker, smiling, wearing his new T-shirt.
On it are pictures of he, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, dressed in 70s-style disco clothing with the phrase “Young Wolves.’’
The S was a dollar sign.
“I gave one to Zach and Wigg, too,’’ Towns said. “Didn’t charge ’em or anything. It was Christmas from me to them.’’
It could catch on. In a runaway 104-90 victory over Atlanta at Target Center — one in which the Wolves built a lead as big as 29 and one that ended with most of the starters resting in the fourth quarter — the young Wolves went to another level with their budding chemistry.
Towns scored 22 points with 11 rebounds and four assists and didn’t miss a shot. Wiggins and LaVine scored 21 each. As a trio, they combined to go 13-for-18 on three-pointers in a game where the ball never seemed to stop moving. The result was the Wolves’ 10th victory this season and fourth straight over the Hawks, who were a much healthier bunch than the team the Wolves beat in Atlanta a last week.
“I thought the movement early was good,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Just trusting the pass, staying connected, making plays for each other. … Their trust in each other, they’re starting to build chemistry in learning how to play off each other and play off double-teams.’’
Of course, this wasn’t just a young Wolves production. Point guard Ricky Rubio had 10 assists and no turnovers in 24 minutes; he has 22 assists and no turnovers in his past 67 minutes, 40 seconds of playing time. Gorgui Dieng had 14 points and seven rebounds while guarding Hawks center Dwight Howard.
The Wolves held the Hawks to 42.2 percent shooting, outscoring Atlanta 66-40 over the second and third quarters. That third quarter, by the way, was the team’s best all season. Just what was needed playing on the back end of back-to-back nights.
But back to the Wolves’ power trio.
All three of them are 21, and all three scored 20 or more in the same game for the fourth time this season (the team is 3-1 in those games) and the eighth time overall (6-2).
Towns scored 15 in the first quarter. LaVine, who hit six of nine three-point attempts overall, scored nine points in the second, and Wiggins scored 12 in a third quarter that seemed like one, long Timberwolves run.
Each player carried the scoring for a stretch, and each passed out of the double-teams that came — especially Towns, who had three of his four assists in the third quarter.
“We started clicking late last year,’’ Towns said. “We have a new system this year. Now we’re starting to understand where our shots are.’’
Said LaVine: “You can see times when we need to take over. Or if some guy is hot. We have the chemistry to know where to find ’em.’’
And, for a night, the defense matched the offense.
The Hawks also got 13 points from Thabo Sefolosha and 12 from Kris Humphries. Howard had 20 points and 12 rebounds.
The Wolves, meanwhile, got another reminder of what unselfish play can lead to.
“This is the way we have to play,” Rubio said. “Teams like San Antonio or Golden State, they end with 30-plus assists every game. That should be our goal as a team. We have players who can score every night. But if we do it like we did tonight, it translates into wins.’’