CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Take it from Charlotte coach Steve Clifford, Timberwolves fans. Things are going to be all right.
Clifford and Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau have been friends for years since they both worked for the New York Knicks. So maybe Clifford knows what he’s talking about. Besides, he has experienced this, too.
He took over the Hornets for the 2013-14 season, inheriting a team filled with young talent like Kemba Walker, who was entering his third season, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was entering his first, and rookie Cody Zeller. He took a team that had won 21 games and won 43 his first season, leading the team to the playoffs for the second time in 10 seasons.
But it was a process. His team had problems to begin that season, going 16-23 in their first 39 games and enduring a stretch where they lost eight of nine games; Clifford can remember back to back games against the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland in which his team gave up 33 three-pointers.
“They’re young,” Clifford said of the Wolves, who played the Hornets here Saturday night. “But they have talent, star power. They’ll get there quickly. Just looking at the numbers it’s been the defense [that has been the problem]. There’s no better defensive coach than [Thibodeau]. It’s an adjustment for them. They’re not guys that have been good at defense before. So it takes time.”
Informed of Clifford’s comments, Thibodeau laughed and said he didn’t remember his buddy going through quite what the Wolves have dealt with.
But Clifford was emphatic: “This is nothing he hasn’t been through. He’s seen everything in this league and he’ll handle it well. They’ll get better and it won’t take very long.”
Karl-Anthony Towns was giving his feet a little pre-game soak when he was asked: What happened in Kentucky?
Before he could answer, Zach LaVine yelled out from a few lockers away. “They lost to UCLA, that’s what happened. He owes me money.”
Top-ranked Kentucky was upset by No. 11 UCLA 97-92 in Lexington on Saturday. Afterward, the two former Bruins players — LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad — both tweeted out congratulations to their old team. It was noted in the locker room that Towns’ Twitter feed remained silent on the issue.
“I was asleep for most of the game,” Towns protested. “I didn’t even watch it. But that was unfortunate.”
LaVine pulled up his socks and head out to the court to warm up. But first he stopped, leaned forward and reiterated: “He owns me moolah.”
Towns smiled, reached for his phone and took a look at game highlights. “And they lost at Rupp [Arena]?” he said. ‘I didn’t have many losses like that.”
Thibodeau said rookie point guard Kris Dunn played the best game of his young career in Friday’s loss at New York.
Dunn led a bench that scored a season-high 47 points. It was the reserves that got the Wolves back in the game after a slow first-quarter spot. The bench also led the Wolves from 10 points down to start the fourth quarter to a one-point lead.
Dunn finished with six points, a steal and five assists in 18-plus minutes on the court. Thibodeau said he liked both Dunn’s aggressiveness on offense and his pressure on the ball at the defensive end.
What did Thibodeau like most? “The ball pressure, pushing the ball up the floor, getting into the paint and forcing the defenses to collapse,” he said. “He made plays.”
• Brandon Rush (toe) was again inactive Saturday.