Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns missed his sixth consecutive game Saturday at Target Center because of a left knee sprain.
So backup big man Gorgui Dieng just kept on keeping on, starting his sixth consecutive game after he had done so twice in the season’s first 21 games.
He also has brought the kind of long-range shooting threat that Towns presents.
In the five games before Saturday’s game against Cleveland, Dieng averaged 15.6 points a game and shot 49% overall and 46.2% from three-point range. He also averaged 9.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals.
“I can do that,” Dieng said. “I’ve been saying that, and I know I can really do that. I don’t think shooting is a problem for me. It’s just how they want to use us.”
Dieng’s 46.2% three-point shooting since Dec. 18 was third in the NBA in that time. He made three threes, scored 21 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in Thursday’s double-overtime victory at Sacramento that helped end the Wolves’ 11-game losing streak.
“I like it when Gorgui does that,” coach Ryan Saunders said about Dieng’s ability to stretch his game to include three-point shots in the corners and up top.
“We’re working on that more. But he’s shot the ball well for us.”
Until Saturday, that is. Dieng had a tough time, going 0-for-5 from three-point range and scoring just five points in 23 minutes.
Dieng has worked on his shooting from long range in summers and in season alike for years.
“I practice whenever I can,” he said. “It’s the new NBA. If you can’t shoot, you can’t play. I’ve been trying. KAT is hard to replace. He’s a great player. Whenever he gets back, I’m just going to do the same things I’ve been doing. It’s a team sport, but everybody does his own stuff.
“I do this whether KAT is playing or not. If I get the opportunity, I’ll do the same thing.”
Wiggins out ill
The Wolves played without both of their two max-salary stars Saturday: Andrew Wiggins didn’t play because he was ill with what the team called flu-like symptoms.
Saunders said before the game that Wiggins was trying to get himself to the arena to play, but inevitably he was unable. Teammates Shabazz Napier and Jarrett Culver are among others who have fallen ill recently.
“I don’t know, wash your hands, have Purell around,” Saunders said when asked how to avoid such things among a team.
“It’s just one of those things that happen. You have to play with who is on the court.”
The Wolves started Dieng, Napier, Culver, Robert Covington and Treveon Graham Saturday with Towns and Wiggins out.
A sort of homecoming
Cleveland, in turn, played without former Wolves star Kevin Love, who sat out with hip and back issues that otherwise might be called load management after he scored 30 points at Boston on Friday.
Love hired an Uber instead Saturday and showed girlfriend Kate Bock around the city he called home for six seasons, until 2014.
“It feels different because it’s my sixth year here [in Cleveland], too,” he said. “So much time has passed. I realized how much I don’t know [about the city] anymore. I showed her all my spots.”