MEMPHIS – It was less than a week ago that Wolves guard Shabazz Napier was talking about his frustration. He had always been a shooter, a threat from long range. He had been putting in the work in practice, watching three after three go through the net. But in games? Not so much.
"But there's a lot of NBA left for us,'' he said. "The only way you can do it is to continue to look up, stride forward.''
Fast forward, one week.
Napier entered Tuesday's game against the Grizzlies in Memphis having scored 20 or more points in four consecutive games, the best such streak in his six seasons. Not surprisingly, the Wolves won three of those four games.
He averaged 32-plus minutes per game in that time. Initially that was because of the spate of injuries and illness that left the team so shorthanded. But even with Andrew Wiggins back in the lineup in Cleveland on Sunday, Napier scored 21 points and handed out seven assists.
His numbers in those four games: 21.8 points and 6.3 assists per game, shooting 60% overall, 55% on three-pointers.
"I mean, don't you guys see me smile when I make shots?'' Napier said. "It is a relief. I think it's just, in due time, obviously you go through these lulls and you just to stay strong through them and hopefully make some shots. I've been fortunate to make a couple shots.''
The shots falling have, clearly, helped the offense.
"I'm more impactful when I make shots,'' he said. "Anybody is more impactful when they make shots. Making long-range shots is who I am.''
The key is to keep it going as the Wolves get healthier. Napier won't have the ball in his hands as much.
"When guys are out, everybody steps into a little bit different role in a way,'' Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said. "It will be natural that Shabazz won't have the ball as much as he has. You also don't want to have just one ball handler on the floor. Anytime you can get more ball handlers on the floor, the better.''
Maybe coincidentally, Napier scored just six points in the Wolves' loss to Memphis.
No big problem
Karl-Anthony Towns isn't back yet. He missed his 11th game Tuesday because of a left knee sprain.
In his absence, Gorgui Dieng has picked up much of the slack, at times spectacularly. Sunday against Cleveland, Dieng hit eight of 10 shots, four of five three-pointers, scoring 22 points with 13 rebounds, six assists and four blocks.
He had 11 points but just two rebounds in 24 minutes Tuesday.
Dieng is not the only big man to contribute.
Given opportunity, Naz Reid has had his moments. He averaged 13 points a game in the five games before Tuesday and had 10 more than night. Noah Vonleh has also been productive, and chipped in four points and six rebounds in 14 minutes Tuesday.
The Timberwolves were, in a sense, playing for Australia Tuesday night.
Wild defenseman Matt Dumba donated $100 for every point the Timberwolves scored against Memphis, with the money going to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service to help with the fires raging there.