If revenge is a dish best served cold, then what better place for the Timberwolves to right a wrong than Minneapolis and Target Center?
Well, except for maybe doing it in January rather than on April’s doorstep.
Six days after they lost an overtime game to the Lakers in Los Angeles that they should have won, the Wolves got their comeuppance, winning 119-104 on a Thursday night when Ricky Rubio’s 33 points surpassed his career scoring high by five.
He also had 10 assists, five rebounds and two steals.
Rubio scored 20 points by halftime after the Wolves took a double-digit, first-half lead — 13 points in the second quarter — just as they had last week, but this time there was no eight-point lead lost in the fourth quarter’s final 2½ minutes.
Rubio’s self-assurance helped prevent that. So did Karl-Anthony Towns’ 32-point, nine-rebound game, Andrew Wiggins’ 27 points and Gorgui Dieng versatile 41-plus-minute performance that was 35 seconds longer than Towns played.
A defense that stiffened in the second half — the Lakers scored 22 points in each of the last two quarters after they scored 37 in the first — didn’t hurt any, either.
This is the seventh 30/10/5 games in Wolves’ history and Rubio is the fifth player to do it.
Remember when Rubio was the point guard who couldn’t shoot straight and his name was among those most often mentioned nationally at February’s trade deadline?
Hey, that was five long weeks ago.
“It feels good,” Rubio said. “I have a lot of confidence. I feel the experience is paying off and the work I put in, too. Starting the season, I wasn’t feeling that good, and now I feel the best I ever felt.”
He injured his elbow in the season’s second game, missed five games and wasn’t completely right until after November turned to December and maybe then some.
On Thursday, he made 12 of 20 shots from the field, including his first four three-point attempts. He missed just one three-pointer after that and extended his streak of consecutive free throws made after a technical foul to 48.
“He has put a lot of time into it, and it’s paying off for him,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said of Rubio’s shooting improvement. “It just opens up the floor. They have to play everybody honestly … He’s finding the open areas. He’s making a lot of good reads.”
Rubio credits diligence, time and work done with assistant coach Ryan Saunders with making him something of a changed man.
“Good health, experience, great coaching staff, a lot of things together,” Rubio said. “I feel good. I really feel good out there.”
Two nights earlier, Rubio’s three free throws with 3.4 seconds left beat Indiana 115-114 there. He made all 13 free throws he attempted Tuesday night.
Rubio long has been an accomplished free-throw shooter. But now he has become the shooter from mid- and three-point range that everybody has been waiting for him to become.
“It has been steady, and that’s the thing about hard work,” Thibodeau said. “Oftentimes you tend to forget it’s step-by-step and the improvement is incremental. Then all of a sudden, you look back and it’s significant. But if you really studied him month by month, each month he has gotten a lot better.”
Rubio’s previous career scoring high was 28, also vs. the Lakers in the season opener a year ago in L.A.
Said Lakers coach Luke Walton: “He’s someone you normally are fine living with hitting threes.”
Not with this new Ricky, apparently.
“I wish we could fight for playoff right now,” Rubio said. “That’s what I came here for. But I hope we can build from here and finally take off next season.”