HOUSTON – Jarred Vanderbilt was giving his postgame comments in a cramped side locker room after the Timberwolves beat the Rockets 141-123 when Anthony Edwards flew open the door.
Wearing a light blue NASA jacket, since the Wolves were in Houston, Edwards had just one thing to say before darting back out.
"Vando is the best in the world," Edwards said. "Vando the best in the world. I repeat, Vando the best in the world."
Of late the Wolves have spoken a lot about how much they enjoy each other's company. How they enjoy talking basketball when away from the floor. That translated on a night like Sunday, when the Wolves set a season high in points and won their fourth consecutive game to get back to .500 (20-20). Vanderbilt had a big night in his hometown with career highs in points (21) and rebounds (19). Karl-Anthony Towns dominated against a team that doesn't have much size on its roster with 40 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Edwards and his cheery, boisterous demeanor helps set the tone for team camaraderie, but it goes beyond just Edwards hyping up his teammates.
"We have fun off the court, too. I think that plays into our success on the floor," said guard D'Angelo Russell, who had 22 points and 10 assists. "Guys want to see one another dominate the game. Nothing like your teammates wanting to do that."
The Wolves had fun watching Vanderbilt reel off eight dunks, the most of any Wolves player since at least as far back as 1996-97, which is how far back NBA play-by-plays are counted.
They enjoyed watching Towns have his way with Houston outside and inside as he stemmed every Rockets run, including one when Houston cut the Wolves lead to 15 with 5 minutes, 43 seconds remaining.
"They didn't really have a matchup for him out there," coach Chris Finch said.
Towns, especially, is appreciative of the good vibes happening with his teammates.
When asked how this team gets along compared to others in his tenure, he said "it's up there" with his first two seasons.
"You're seeing a maturation of a young team finding their own," Towns said. "I think everyone in the NBA is seeing an identity being built in Minnesota, something that I think has been lacking in this organization for a long, long time. A true identity and I think what's even better is you're seeing an actual love for each other."
Towns said this has helped the team improve its offense, its ball movement and its trust of each other. They end up trusting a guy like Vanderbilt, who has seen his role on offense grow as the season goes along. He is now running pick and rolls with Russell and becoming a dangerous threat as a low man.
"Everybody wants to be great," Towns said. "Everybody wants to be on top of their job and it crosses over."
Towns said the team doused Vanderbilt in water after his career night.
"It means everything. It's a dream," Vanderbilt said. "I grew up coming to Rockets games, so being able to do this in front of my hometown, in front of friends and family, it means everything."
The Wolves have done what they are supposed to do in this stretch of the schedule — defeated teams lower then them in the standings. The last two wins over Oklahoma City and Houston have been the easiest wins the Wolves have had in consecutive games all season. That certainly helps keep the mood light.
"They've got a great connective tissue and they really like playing for each other, really like rooting for each other," Finch said.