The Timberwolves will try to break their seven-game losing streak when they face New Orleans on Wednesday at Target Center.
They might have to do so without center Karl-Anthony Towns.
When asked about the team’s health before Tuesday’s practice, Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said that Towns — who appeared to injure his left leg late in the Wolves’ loss to the Clippers Friday — was hurting.
“Just banged up a little,” Saunders said of Towns. “But we’ll see how he is today.”
Towns appeared to be walking gingerly as he took the court for Tuesday’s workout, and he was listed as questionable because of a sprained left knee when the Wolves injury report was released later Tuesday.
Towns was banged up late in the Clippers game. He had scored 19 points as the Wolves had trimmed a 27-point Clippers lead late in the third quarter to just five. With the Wolves down seven, Towns drove the lane for an attempted dunk with 1:42 left. Fouled by Montrezl Harrell, Towns came down hard, clutching his left leg.
He stayed in the game, hitting one of two free throws, and the Wolves eventually pulled within four.
In the closing moments of the game Saunders subbed Jordan Bell in for Towns in defensive situations, reinserting Towns for offensive possessions.
Towns finished the game with 39 points on 12-for-22 shooting, but didn’t score again after that free throw with 1:42 left. For the season he’s averaging 26.5 points and 11.7 rebounds, both tops on the Wolves.
Towns, in his fifth season, has been remarkably healthy. He played all 82 games each of his first three seasons. He missed five games last season, two after being involved in an auto accident.
He missed two games this season serving a suspension after being involved in an on-court scuffle with Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid. Gorgui Dieng took his place in the starting lineup for both games. The Wolves are 3-4 all-time without Towns in the lineup, including 1-1 this season.
If Dieng has to play more minutes, the Wolves would suffer on offense but might benefit on defense. Dieng’s defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) is 102.1, while Towns’ defensive rating is 114.5. Overall the Wolves’ team defensive rating during their seven-game losing streak is 123.5, worst in the NBA during that span.
Before Tuesday’s practice, Dieng said improved play for the Wolves has to start on defense. And playing better defense, he said, has more to do with desire than the scheme being played.
“Whatever the coach does, they can change the defensive scheme, whatever,” Dieng said. “But you’ve got to have heart. You have to want it first. You have to want to play defense. If we don’t have the defensive mind-set, whatever the coach does, it won’t work.”
The Wolves haven’t played since Friday and have been able to get two practices in during that span — important, in Saunders’ eyes. He said he was encouraged by the competitive level in Monday’s workout and hopes the Wolves can get back to their early-season ways. Before this seven-game slide, Minnesota was No. 12 in the NBA in defensive rating.
“We were scratching and clawing on every possession,” Saunders said of the earlier success. “You want to prove people wrong. I think it’s a natural thing that you really have to guard against as a group, when you have a little success, doing the right little things.”