PORTLAND, ORE. – The Timberwolves were playing their second night of a back-to-back Saturday, but one player was playing his third game in as many nights.
Jaylen Nowell played in Friday’s game at Denver a night after he played for the Iowa Wolves in Las Vegas as part of the G League Showcase.
“Definitely sick of airplanes,” Nowell said. “But I’m good right now. Just ready to play.”
Nowell was especially excited because he had about 10 friends and family members make the 2½-hour drive from his native Seattle.
“I have a very supportive family, so they’re just happy to see me playing on this stage right now,” Nowell said. “It’s more of a fun experience than any pressure.”
Nowell logged the most playing time of his young NBA career against the Nuggets, playing nearly 15 minutes and scoring six points in Friday’s loss. He played another 13 minutes in Saturday's 113-106 loss to the Trail Blazers.
Wolves coach Ryan Saunders liked what he saw from Nowell, but he wants the rookie to shoot more. Nowell was the Pac-12 Player of the Year out of Washington last season, averaging 16.2 points per game while shooting 44% from three-point range.
“I told him yesterday, told him today and tell him again before he takes the court — shoot the ball with confidence,” Saunders said. “Play with confidence because he’s at his best when he does that.”
Nowell said he was focused on his defense and that’s why he didn’t hunt for his shot as much as he could have.
“That’s how I wanted to provide the energy instead of just going out there to score,” Nowell said.
With Karl-Anthony Towns missing his third consecutive game because of a left knee injury, the Wolves could use all the scoring they could get.
Napier still limited
Saturday marked the 10th game guard Shabazz Napier has played in since returning from a right hamstring game that caused him to miss the previous 12. Napier revealed after Friday’s game that he is still on a minutes restriction following the injury — although that didn’t seem to be a concern Saturday.
He played 20 minutes and made his first start against the Nuggets, and he said his limit is right around 20. He had four points on 1-for-6 shooting Friday as he, like his teammates, struggled to hit from the outside.
Napier got his second consecutive start Saturday night and played 29 minutes, scoring 18 points.
“The biggest thing for me is going in there, trying to rebound, get some stops and put my hands on steals and being able to pass the ball to guys for open shots, that’s kind of what I do best,” Napier said. “Eventually for me personally, my shots will fall and I’ll be able to impact the team much heavier than I am doing now.”
Wiggins, Dieng click
One of the bright spots in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets was the play of Gorgui Dieng, who was one of the few Wolves able to hit consistently from the outside. Dieng was 4-for-6 from three-point range and scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds in 23 minutes.
Dieng displayed some chemistry with Andrew Wiggins, who finished with six assists to go along with his 19 points. Three of those assists came on Dieng baskets, and the pair helped lead the Wolves’ third-quarter charge that cut Denver’s lead to two.
Wiggins and Dieng are the two longest-tenured Wolves, and their connection on the court showed.
“I love playing with Gorgui,” Wiggins said. “He’s very unselfish. He’s always going to try and do the right thing, whether it’s shooting the open shot, setting screens to get you open. ... That’s the kind of player you want.”