During Andrew Wiggins’ postgame media scrum, Jeff Teague was walking over to his locker and asked Wiggins if he notched a career high in assists during Thursday’s 116-102 victory over Portland.
“Nah,” Wiggins said with a smile.
Then after his session ended, Wiggins went over to bust Teague’s chops for not taking an open three that would have resulted in a Wiggins assist.
Wiggins might have been able to top that mark, nine, if he had needed to play in the fourth quarter of one of the easiest wins and most complete games the Wolves have played all season — and one of Wiggins’ best performances in weeks.
“I feel like I was in a good rhythm the whole game,” Wiggins said. “I feel like everybody was, and I feel like we played great defense. Our defense turned into easy offense where a lot of us got good looks. “
Wiggins helped create some of those with eight assists to pair with his 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting in 26 minutes. It was the kind of efficient night that was a hallmark of his earlier performances this season, when he started with one of the best stretches of his career.
But since mid-November, there have been interruptions to Wiggins’ “rhythm.” A wrist injury, a pair of illnesses and Karl-Anthony Towns’ absence, which on Thursday extended to 12 games because of a left knee sprain, have all had an impact. The latter has allowed opponents to focus on Wiggins more than they otherwise might. But perhaps Thursday’s game can reignite Wiggins.
“As a coach, that’s what you’d hope,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “There have been things of his that were out of our control. But we’ve got to make sure that we just weather those, and we don’t want to look at those as things that maybe made us take any types of steps back.”
The Wolves took a step forward as a team, with the offense finally catching up with a defense that has been among the NBA’s best since Towns went out. They shot 49% while holding Portland to 37%. The Wolves took control with a 31-13 second quarter that Saunders might like to bottle for the rest of the season.
They led by 12 at halftime and pushed that up to 26 by the end of the third. Robert Covington’s active hands disrupted several Blazers possessions, and he also chipped in 15 points. Gorgui Dieng continued his strong two-way play in Towns’ absence with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Keita Bates-Diop added 11 points off the bench.
Josh Okogie also provided positive energy off the bench with eight points, two blocks and two steals. Okogie said this defensive revival from the Wolves began when the team realized it would be in trouble with Towns and Wiggins both out if it didn’t defend.
“We knew that was a lot of scoring that we [had to] make up for, so the only way to supplement was really just to kind of grind,” Okogie said. “Make sure the other teams weren’t scoring and kind of feed off our defense and give us offense. That’s what kept us in the hunt while those two were out.”
Towns is nearing a return, while Wiggins seems to have shaken off the effects of his most recent illness that caused him to miss four games.
“I just got to stay with it, stay aggressive and trust in what I can do,” Wiggins said.
When asked if he wanted to go back out in the fourth quarter to try to pick up a few more assists, Wiggins smiled again.
“Nah, I was good,” he said. “We had a good lead, so I was good just resting and let the other guys get a chance to go out there and do their thing.”
“I’ll get it one day. No rush.”