Jimmy Butler has a very simple request of teammate Andrew Wiggins:
Keep this up.
Butler was talking after the Timberwolves had topped the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night at Target Center. It was his first game back after missing four in a row because of a sore knee. While Butler sat and watched, Wiggins stepped up his game, taking and making more shots, leading the team in scoring three times.
With Butler healthy and back, he wants Wiggins to keep pushing his limits.
“He is phenomenal in putting the ball in the basket,’’ Butler said. “That’s what we want, him attacking in transition, in the post. We need him to continue to do that.’’
So far so good.
With Butler back, Wiggins didn’t take a step back. Like Butler, he scored 21 points against the Nets. He made nine of 20 shots and had five rebounds and two assists. He also blocked a shot and had a steal.
Keep it up.
“We all know how talented Andrew is,’’ Butler said. “How he can get to any spot on the floor whenever he wants to. It doesn’t change, just because I’m back in the lineup. Just continue to do that. He’s keying in on defense, which is huge. Getting his hands on a lot of 50-50 balls, getting rebounds. That’s what we need out of Andrew. When he’s locked in, playing at that high a level, he’s changing the game for everyone.’’
Much has been made of the steps center Karl-Anthony Towns has made this season. His attention to detail on defense, his improved ability to make plays for his teammates. All of that has landed him in his first All-Star Game.
Wiggins is making strides, too. And the biggest step might be his willingness to stay aggressive.
“That’s what I have to do,’’ he said. “When I get the ball I’m in attack mode. I’m always confident in scoring the ball, especially if I get to the spots I like.’’
Saturday, the Nets had trimmed a 26-point Wolves lead early in the second quarter to just five with 7:59 left in the third.
The Wolves responded with a 14-2 run, with Towns scoring eight and Wiggins six.
It started with Wiggins’ 11-foot turnaround, followed by his defensive rebound at the other end, then his 22-foot jumper. He also had an assist on a Towns basket during the run, and his 9-footer with 3:45 left in the quarter pushed the Wolves’ lead back to 17.
Wiggins had 10 points, three rebounds and two assists in the quarter. He has had five or more rebounds in five of his past six games; the Wolves are 17-5 when he does that.
“He let the game come to him,’’ Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He didn’t force things. Then you look at the end of the game and he’s had a very strong game.’’
Thibodeau especially likes Wiggins’ decisions with the ball, his awareness of double teams and his ability to make plays out of double teams or to attack when he’s getting the right coverage. Thibodeau is also seeing improvement on defense.
“He’s getting his hands on a lot of balls, too,’’ Thibodeau said. “A lot of deflections. He’s seeing things, making his teammates better.’’