Undefeated at home approaching two months now, the Timberwolves now head out for a Wednesday game at Cleveland and a Friday game at Chicago.
Unlike their 12-game winning streak at Target Center, the road has not been kind to them. They are 1-8 in their past nine after starting the season 11-8 away from home.
They will first face LeBron James and a meandering Cavaliers team they thumped 127-99 at Target Center a month ago. On Friday, they will play the Bulls for the first time since last summer’s trade brought All-Star Jimmy Butler and sent Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and No. 7 overall pick Lauri Markkanen to Chicago.
That home victory over the Cavs on Jan. 8 was the Wolves’ sixth in this current 12-game home streak that dates to a Dec. 16 loss to Phoenix.
“We’re heading on the road for some good challenges, some battles against some good teams,” Butler said. “You just got to go about it the same way. You’ve got to wake up for every game the same way, prepare for it the same way. But even more so on the road because it’s so much more difficult.”
The Wolves’ three-day break between Saturday’s 118-107 victory over New Orleans marks their first consecutive days off in five weeks. After they played 20 games in 35 days, coach Tom Thibodeau gave his players Super Bowl Sunday and Monday off before they resume practice Tuesday morning.
The Wolves have sold out nine of their 28 home games so far. Neither game against Milwaukee or New Orleans over a long Super Bowl weekend quite sold out, but each attracted a big, festive crowd that featured such celebrities as New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, boxer Floyd Mayweather, NFL star Antonio Brown, celebrity chef Guy Fieri and musicians Sting and Shaggy.
It’s long ago and far away from those many seasons when the Wolves more often than not drew sparse audiences. After Saturday’s game, the Wolves’ Andrew Wiggins recalled an “empty” Target Center often during his first three NBA seasons and said some high school games drew more fans than a Wolves game.
Reserve point guard Tyus Jones has been around one season fewer, but, too, has noticed the difference.
“It’s a turnaround for sure just from a couple years ago,” Jones said. “But we’re giving fans a reason to come out now. We’re giving them a reason to cheer. We’re protecting home court. They’ve done their job as fans and we’re appreciative of them.”
The Wolves’ 12-game home winning streak is the third-longest single-season streak in franchise history. First-time All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns doesn’t attribute it to the energy provided by a home court, even though he does calls the team’s fans “amazing.”
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“I just think we’re executing at a high level when we’re home,” Towns said. “Defensively, we’re really good. Offensively, we’ve never usually had problems. But obviously our defense translate to a lot of fast-break points and opportunities going the other way. … Obviously, you have to protect home. You need to do a lot of good things to win at home, especially.
“We’re doing a great job of finding ways to win. I don’t even think it’s home. I think it’s a way. We’re doing a great job all season scratching out wins and finding a way to get wins.”
To Butler, that means doing the same things in Cleveland and Chicago that his team has done the past seven weeks at Target Center.
“We guard, get some turnovers, get out in the open floor,” Butler said, “and we’ll see where we end up.”
Towns stands out in a photographers crowd
If you noticed, the tallest photographer on the Super Bowl sidelines Sunday was Towns, who was credentialed by the Players’ Tribune to shoot the game. He wore an Eagles jersey with “Free Meek Mill” displayed on the back, a message of support for imprisoned Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill.
Raised in New Jersey and an Eagles fan since boyhood, Towns tweeted after his team won, “I don’t think Thibs is ready to hear what I got to say.”
The New England-raised Thibodeau is a Patriots fan and a Belichick admirer.
After he wore a plastic-and-metal brace for three weeks to protect a sprained knee ligament, starting point guard Jeff Teague played the past two games without it.
He made it clear he hated wearing it.
“I’m so happy,” he said now that it’s off.