LOS ANGELES – One night after they had lost in Los Angeles to a Lakers team that hadn’t won in three weeks, the Timberwolves on Wednesday at Staples Center beat 108-102 a chugging Clippers team that even without Blake Griffin had lost just three times since Christmas.
The Wolves ended a five-game losing streak and won on the second night of back-to-back games for the first time this season, after seven unsuccessful tries. It was also their first road victory since winning at Brooklyn five days before Christmas.
They did so in an ESPN national cablecast with young star Andrew Wiggins scoring 31 points – 21 of them in the first half alone – for the second time in 24 hours, his seventh 30-point game this season and the second time this season he has had back-to-back 30-point games.
Fellow No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns missed his first six field-goal attempts, made six of his next seven and finished with a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double during a game when the Wolves pounded the Clippers 50-36 on points in the paint.
Second-year guard Zach LaVine scored 17 points off the bench and the Wolves ended a 14-game losing streak to the Clippers, winning for the first time since Wiggins had just turned 17 and Towns and LaVine were 16 years old in February 2012.
“We believe in our young guys and we’re going to ride with them,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said afterward, “because they’re going to lead us eventually to where we’ve got to go and where we want to go. We believe that. Nights like this helps their maturity, helps their professionalism, helps their growth and it gives them confidence.”
Wiggins scored just 10 points after halftime, but his spinning, fade shot with 47.6 seconds broke a score tied at 98 and put the Wolves ahead to stay one night after he had exchanged such moves with the great Kobe Bryant down the stretch against the Lakers.
“He’s playing good, he’s stepping up,” said Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio, whose eight-point, seven-assist, five-rebound, five-steal night was his 15th career game with at least five in those categories. “That what we need from him.”
Wiggins shot 12-for-21 from the field and made three of the Wolves’ eight three-pointers in a game where they almost kept pace, at least by their standards, with the Clippers’ 11 made threes.
“I’m very confident in my game,” Wiggins said on the final night of a four-game Western road trip that started with him making 5 of 29 shots in losses at Utah and Portland. “I just try to stay consistent.”
The Wolves made some of the same mistakes they did in the closing minutes of Tuesday’s 119-115 loss to the sinking Lakers, only fewer of them.
Trailing by seven points late in the second quarter and leading by 10 midway through the third quarter, the Wolves let get away a 96-88 lead with 4 ½ minutes left and still persevered in the final minute, holding firm while the veteran Clippers became the team that missed shots and made mistakes.
Wolves veteran forward Tayshaun Prince played more than 31 ½ minutes and limited Clippers guard J.J. Redick to a 1-for-9, five-point shooting night after Redick has helped carry his team since Griffin has been out with first a partially torn quad and now a fractured hand after punching an assistant equipment manager during a night out in Toronto.
Included among Wednesday’s mistakes: Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul’s technical foul with 20.6 seconds left when he clapped his hands together angrily after being called for a foul while double-teaming Ricky Rubio with the Wolves leading 102-100 at the time.
Rubio made two of the three subsequent free throws to give the Wolves a four-point lead they never surrendered again.
Paul said he apologized to his teammates after the game and before the Clippers head out Thursday morning on a four-game Eastern trip that leads into next week’s All-Star break.
“You cannot get techs in the fourth quarter,” Paul said. “That was a big call…This was a must-win for us. Every night is like that and this cannot happen. As a captain, that is on me.”