PHOENIX – To keep up with an opponent too fast for them Sunday afternoon, the Timberwolves called upon veteran point guard Andre Miller to do what he does: Slow the game down.
He did so both for himself and young Zach LaVine on an afternoon when that two-man combination brought the Wolves back into fourth-quarter contention.
“No one’s going to speed him up, he plays at his own pace,” LaVine said. “He saved me because I was getting pressured. He slowed it down and really opened everything up for me.”
That’s what you do when you’re 39 — maybe he should have his own Geico commercial — and never were very fast in your youth anyway. He hadn’t played since a game against the Clippers in Los Angeles two weeks ago, and he missed Friday’s loss at Denver because of a personal matter.
But Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell called upon him late in the third quarter when all other hope was lost, and Miller’s playmaking and LaVine’s scoring created a 35-23 fourth-quarter advantage. LaVine scored 15 of his 28 points then, Miller had five assists and was a plus-five while each played the entire quarter.
And the Wolves cut a 21-point deficit to five in the final minute.
“We were able to get into a rhythm,” Miller said. “I just try to slow the game down for Zach. When they started to pick up their pressure, me and Zach talked about going after whoever had the weaker defender and Coach saw that and we went from there. That backed off their pressure and allowed us to make some plays.”
The Wolves battled foul trouble Sunday for the second consecutive game, often arguing officials’ calls without any success. Their rotations were disrupted when Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica all got into foul trouble.
“We’ve been dealing with it the whole year; we should be used to it,” LaVine said. “The refs aren’t going to give us many calls. You just have to fight through it sometimes. That’s just the way it is right now until it changes.”
Local boy makes good
Orono’s own Jon Leuer started his ninth game this season for the Suns on Sunday and scored 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting, his seventh consecutive double-digit scoring game. He also had three rebounds and four assists.
“He just found the spots where it’s an easy shot for him,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “He played smart.”
• Sunday was the second time in two weeks the Wolves played an afternoon game in a Western time zone that allowed them to fly home and arrive at a reasonable hour that night. But “these early games for older players, they’re hard,” Mitchell said. “I hated them after I got be 33, 34, 35. It disrupts your body.”
• Suns veteran center Tyson Chandler returned to play for the first time since he injured his hamstring on Nov. 27 and came off the bench for the first time since the 2009-10 season.