NEW ORLEANS — With their 110-96 victory over New Orleans on Monday, the Timberwolves won their fourth consecutive game. In the course of a long NBA season that might not sound like too much, but it hasn't happened often in recent Wolves history.
The last time was late last season when the Wolves closed their otherwise miserable season on an upswing. Before that, the last time the Wolves won four in a row came when Tom Thibodeau was still coach in November 2018.
That four-game winning streak came during a stretch of strong play in the immediate aftermath of the Jimmy Butler trade to Philadelphia. Initially the trade breathed life into the Wolves as they went 9-3 in the first 12 games after the trade. Then Robert Covington injured his knee and the team went into a downward spiral, with its vortex having kept the Wolves near the bottom of the Western Conference ever since.
Center Karl-Anthony Towns didn't sound too excited after Monday's win when asked how it felt to win four in a row.
"It ain't a five-game win streak, so that's the perspective," Towns said. "We haven't done enough. There's nothing to celebrate with a four-game winning streak."
The last time the Wolves won five in a row came in Butler's lone full season with the Wolves when they went on three separate five-game win streaks. In a bit of symmetry, it will be Butler and his Miami Heat standing in the way of the Wolves' fifth consecutive win Wednesday night at Target Center.
Butler and Towns, who Butler criticized on his way out the door in Minnesota, will renew acquaintances and animosities as they face off for the first time since microphones caught a bit of their trash talk during a Heat win in Miami late last season.
The two got through a Wolves win at Target Center a few weeks prior without incident, but during Miami's win May 7, microphones picked up Butler saying to Towns, "I already punked you once."
Towns responded by saying, "Call Rachel Nichols," a reference to the day Butler ended his holdout before the 2018-19 season, famously returned to practice to scrimmage with the third string against the starters, then sat down with ESPN afterward to talk all about his issues with the team.
If there's someone on this current Wolves team who embodies the role Butler tried to play in Minnesota, it's veteran guard Patrick Beverley, who is the main communicator on defense and one of the team's leaders. The Wolves had the seventh-best defensive efficiency entering Tuesday and part of that is due to the chemistry the starting lineup of Beverley, Jarred Vanderbilt, D'Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards and Towns have found, especially on defense.
That group has the highest net rating (50.8) of any five-man lineup in the NBA that played more than 25 minutes together, according to data from NBA.com. That means on a points per possession basis, that unit has outscored opponents by that figure when all five are on the floor.
"It was tough in the beginning, coach [Chris Finch] was trying to find out who could play with each other obviously and then we just — Vando, D-Lo, Ant, Kat — I don't think no one envisioned that starting the season, but we put it together," Beverley said. "We practiced and it worked. … I give a lot of credit to coach for making that adjustment."
That lineup will try to help the Wolves achieve something they haven't done in a long time, and the last person to help them get there will be the one trying to block them.