Chris’ three points
1. Andrew Wiggins could probably use Karl-Anthony Towns back in the lineup. With Towns absent the past five games, Wiggins has struggled scoring from the floor, shooting just 38% over that stretch. His latest effort was a 4-for-19 game in Thursday’s win over the Kings. It’s no coincidence that Wiggins is going through a shooting slump without Towns there to draw attention. “It’s been tough,” coach Ryan Saunders said. “But you just got to keep with it. It helps if we’re able to make shots along the perimeter, then defenses can’t pack the paint.” Saunders said despite Wiggins’ drop in efficiency, he likes the shots Wiggins has been taking.
2. The Wolves got into their 11-game losing streak because of defense and they got out of it because of defense. For a six-game stretch — Games 2 through 7 of the losing streak — the Wolves had the worst defensive rating in the NBA at 126.1 points per 100 possessions. But over their past four games it has ranked seventh in the league, at 104 points per 100 possessions. On Thursday they held the Kings to 35%. What was the difference? Saunders cited pressuring the ball better. Gorgui Dieng said it came down to mentality. “Nothing crazy,” Dieng said. “Just be more aggressive. I think whatever we do, we got to fully commit to it. If we stay more aggressive that’ll be very helpful.”
3. Towns continues to make slow but steady progress in his return from a left knee sprain. You can quantify some of the impact in Towns’ absence by looking at his on-court/off-court numbers, which tell a tale of two different teams. When Towns is on the floor, the Wolves have an offensive efficiency of 113.7 and defensive efficiency of 114.5. When he doesn’t play, the offense plummets to 96.3. For comparison, the team with the worst offensive efficiency in the league is the Bulls at 103.5. But the defense improves with Towns off the floor — the Wolves have a rating of 102.8. That would be behind the Bucks, who have the best efficiency in the league at 102.1.
AROUND THE NBA
Clippers assert themselves
A look at the Western Conference standings reveals that the Lakers are the top seed at 24-7 entering Friday But even though their record isn’t as good as the Lakers’, the Clippers (23-10) have won both head-to-head meetings between the teams, on opening night and again on Christmas. Houston and Denver also are jockeying at the top of the West, but they lack the championship pedigree that Clippers have in Kawhi Leonard, who has sat multiple games this year to manage a knee injury. Because of Leonard’s “load management,” the Clippers could even slip further, but if they maintain a healthy roster in the playoffs, they are a smart pick to go all the way.