From necessity came Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau’s big starting lineup in Sunday’s 125-99 home victory over a Los Angeles Lakers team that had won five of its past six games.
With starting guard Zach LaVine unable to play (knee), Thibodeau moved Andrew Wiggins to LaVine’s big guard spot and inserted 6-10 Nemanja Bjelica into Wiggins’ small-forward position.
Thibodeau liked what he saw.
“What I like is the length,” he said of a starting lineup that included big men Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns as well as long-armed point guard Ricky Rubio. “Now we’re real long at the ‘2’ [shooting guard], long at the ‘3’ [small forward], real long with Karl and Gorgui as well. Ricky’s disruptive. I like [Wiggins] a lot as a shooting guard. I think he gives you some very distinctive advantages.”
Bjelica played nearly 41 minutes, which he credited in part for his 24-point, eight-rebound, three-steal, three-assist night.
“I play a lot, so I get a lot of minutes,” Bjelica said after making his first NBA start. “As long as I feel good, it doesn’t matter which position I play. I had so much confidence because I played like 40 minutes. I was patient.”
Wiggins, too, approved of the new lineup that was made partly to put Bjelica’s size on the Lakers’ big small forward Luol Deng.
“I think it worked out good,” Wiggins said. “Bjelly looked great out there. He was defending well, shooting the ball well. He was creating. I think it worked out well.”
Down on Wiggins’ career game
Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell wasn’t all that impressed about Wiggins’ 47-point night because it included 22 free throws shot: “Anybody in this league is capable of doing that when you go to the free-throw line that many times. It makes the game easy for you, especially when you can score the ball and see the ball go in a few times. The rim seems like an ocean out there.”
Making his point
Thibodeau for the second consecutive night sent rookie Kris Dunn into the game first to spell Rubio, but he also played Dunn and Tyus Jones together while Rubio rested.
“I think you’re seeing more and more multiple point guards,” Thibodeau said on a night his team played without LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad and Brandon Rush. “I like having everybody ready.”
Rush saw bright future for Walton
Rush saw Lakers coach Luke Walton’s future approaching fast when both were with 73-victory Golden State last season. He saw a head-coaching job coming, if Walton didn’t go back to a playing career.
“Last year, he played 3-on-3, 4-on-4 with us,” Rush said. “He can relate to the guys in that way because he played the game a long time.”
Dang, no Deng
The Wolves pursued Deng in free agency last July but bowed out when the Lakers offered him a four-year, $72 million contract.
Thibodeau coached Deng in Chicago and wanted him, but not at that length and price.
“He was the ultimate glue guy,” Thibodeau said. “Look at what he did in Chicago: He was our best leader. Initially, it was a team searching to win, and he embraced everything.”