Karl-Anthony Towns had a monster game Tuesday against the Clippers, with 30 points, 19 rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot.
He was then asked how he felt about being poised to be on the first team in Timberwolves history to have a winning season without a guy named Kevin Garnett on the roster.
Towns immediately posted his second block of the night.
“We have a lot more work to do,” the 22-year-old center said after the Wolves improved to 41-31, guaranteeing their first non-losing season since spring 2004. “For a lot of us, it’s the biggest stretch of our career.”
His point: Nothing, really, has been accomplished yet.
In the jam-packed race for playoff position in the Western Conference, only Houston and Golden State have separated themselves. Third-place Portland is only 3 1/2 games ahead of No. 8 Utah. The Wolves are in in seventh place, 1½ games behind fourth place and two games ahead of ninth. San Antonio, Oklahoma City, the Wolves and Utah have just a few games left to sort things out.
And so, with 10 games left to go starting with Friday’s game in New York against the Knicks, the Wolves need a final push.
“Every game is crucial,” said Andrew Wiggins, whose game — especially on defense — has ramped up recently. In the past 10 games — without injured All-Star guard Jimmy Butler — Wiggins has averaged 21.4 points, shot 48.2 percent overall, 47.5 percent in three-pointers and has made free throws at a near 73 percent clip.
“One game can decide whether we’re in or out,” Wiggins said. “This playoff race is crazy. Every game is a desperate game for us.”
The Wolves just navigated a difficult 10-game stretch, without Butler, that included seven games against teams currently in playoff position. That included games against Portland, Utah, Boston, Houston and San Antonio. The team held its own, splitting those games, with victories over Golden State and Washington.
“We treaded some dark waters at one point,” Towns said. “Losing some games. We had to go out and find ways to win some games. We did a great job against Golden State, a great job at Washington. We have to keep finding ways to win.”
Said Thibodeau when asked about that 5-5 stretch: “You guys know I’m never happy. We said, going in, it’s a tough part of the schedule. We’re down Jimmy. And it had to be collective will. We have more than enough to win. If we do the right things, good things will happen.”
Now, at least on paper, the road gets a little easier. In their final 10 games the Wolves play just four games against teams with winning records.
A caveat: A Wolves Achilles’ heel this year has been Eastern Conference teams on the road, with Minnesota poised to play at New York Friday and at Philly Saturday.
Still, the opportunity is there.The good news for Thibodeau is that Wiggins and Towns — averaging 28.2 points in his past five games — are getting great experience in games with near-playoff intensity while waiting for Butler to return.
“This is great for them,” Thibodeau said. “They’re meaningful games, and I think you’re seeing them make winning plays. That’s the biggest thing. They have good individual scoring games, things like that. But to see winning plays, where guys are unselfish, both offensively and defensively, making hustle plays, that’s what it’s all about really.”
Included in the final 10 games are two games with Memphis and one against Atlanta. The Hawks are dead last in the Eastern Conference, the Grizzlies 14th in the West.
“This has the whole team going,” Wiggins said of the playoff push. “We’re trying to do something here that hasn’t been done in a long time.”