The Utah Jazz are a rebuilding team this season, and they were a rebuilding team last year when Nickeil Alexander-Walker still played for them.
Even in a situation in which a franchise could give heavy minutes to a lot of its young players to see what it has in them, Alexander-Walker piled up 19 games where he didn't play a single minute. The franchise then confirmed it had little interest in keeping him around when it included him as a part of the trade that brought Mike Conley to the Timberwolves.
So when he was asked if that made nights like Thursday's 101-90 Wolves victory over his former team that much sweeter, Alexander-Walker, who's now playing a significant, regular role on the No. 1 team in the Western Conference, gave a diplomatic answer. But some candor still came through.
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Alexander-Walker said. "I'm happy for the way it went, I'm grateful for the way it went, and it felt good for it to be against them."
With Anthony Edwards out because of a hip pointer, an injury that's not expected to keep him out for long, the Wolves needed people to compensate for his absence on the offensive end of the floor. The most obvious person for that was Karl-Anthony Towns, and he responded with 32 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
They were probably expecting one of their former Jazz players to pick up his production. What they probably didn't expect was that player being Alexander-Walker. Alexander-Walker had 20 points, seven assists, five rebounds and played his typical brand of unyielding defense. That led to five steals and at least four offensive fouls drawn, which means Alexander-Walker was responsible for at least nine of Utah's 21 turnovers.
"It's fun to watch him play," coach Chris Finch said. "He gives us a ton of juice."
That "juice" helped lead to some easy transition opportunities for himself and his teammates on a night the Wolves offense started slow but picked up thanks to its defense. At one point, when the Wolves broke the game open with a 35-19 third quarter, Alexander-Walker had the highlight of the night with a behind-the-back flip to Towns for a dunk on a fast break.
"I just lose myself in it, and it's really fun, especially when the crowd gets going and we get a few in a row and get good offense," Alexander-Walker said. "Now we've got a run. You just feel the energy with the crowd and you feel that gravitational shift, and it's a whole different feeling."
Alexander-Walker and Towns broke the Wolves out of a sleep start to the night, when they fell behind 35-23 in the second quarter. But Alexander-Walker scored five and Towns scored seven on a 15-0 run that brought the Wolves back in it.
Towns shook off two offensive fouls in the first quarter to post 13 in the second quarter and nine in the decisive third.
"It ended well," Finch said of Towns' evening. "I was a little worried with the start with the two offensive fouls and the sitting, which we absolutely could not afford tonight. We needed his firepower out there, we needed a guy that we could go to to get a bucket."
Towns was 12-for-22 and picked up just one foul the rest of the night. He gave all credit to Alexander-Walker for sparking the victory.
"He's special. We were saying it last year. We've seen it again this year," Towns said.
Utah, which was without Lauri Markkanen (hamstring) on Thursday, didn't see what the Wolves saw, and the Wolves are better off for it.
"You try not to make it personal, because you want to come out the same way against every team, but I'm human at the end of the day," Alexander-Walker said. "It still feels good to win."
• Finch said before the game Edwards was experiencing "acute" pain in his hip, which he injured Tuesday. The Wolves would re-evaluate Edwards to see if he could play Saturday in Charlotte. Finch added the injury is not expected to cost Edwards a lot of time.