MEMPHIS – The Timberwolves arrived at FedEx Forum for Saturday night’s game having averaged a margin of 25.5 points in their four victories this season.
They also were 0-5 in games decided in the final five minutes.
“The big thing when games are coming down the stretch is understanding the fourth quarter is a lot different than the rest of the game,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “In the third quarters, we’ve had our problems, but our fourth quarters we’ve actually played pretty well and put ourselves in position to win at the end. Closing out games is important, and then understanding the difference between the first three quarters and the fourth quarter is important.
“We just have to continue to improve.”
The Wolves haven’t won a game yet this season by fewer than 16 points. Their other three victories have come by 24, 26 and 36 points. They’ve lost three games by four points or fewer.
Young Wolves star Andrew Wiggins said he thinks that first victory in a tight game will be a breakthrough.
“When we do it, it’ll be huge because we’ll know what it takes to win a close one,” he said. “Last year, we let close games slip away from us. Same thing this year. Once we get it, we’ll get it.”
Wiggins entered Saturday’s game still leading the NBA in three-point percentage, at .523. That’s better than the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley, the Clippers’ JJ Redick or Utah’s Joe Johnson, among others.
Color first-year Memphis coach David Fizdale impressed.
“He’s really starting to turn into a Kobe Bryant-like player,” Fizdale said of Wiggins. “You feel like you’re on an island out there against him and the fact that he can pull you so far from the basket now and he has all that runway to get by you, it makes it really difficult. It’s a team effort defending a guy like that.”
Bazz is back
Reserve guard Brandon Rush missed his seventh consecutive game since spraining a ligament in his right big toe at Oklahoma City two weeks ago, but Shabazz Muhammad returned to action Saturday.
He had missed three games because of a sore right knee. “Finally,” Muhammad said. “It feels like it has been six games.”
Better be ready
Wolves backup forward Adreian Payne has played his way into Thibodeau’s rotation, receiving meaningful minutes for three consecutive games before Saturday night after he had played very limited minutes in just two games before that.
“That’s a big part of being a pro,” Thibodeau said. “Every day you have to work and understand what your job is and then you have to go out there and execute your job. Everyone is counting on you to do that.”
• Saturday’s game was the fourth time the two teams played already, three in the regular season and once in the preseason. “It’s a little unusual, but it’s the way it comes,” Thibodeau said. “You have to be ready.”
• The two teams have played so often already this season, but the Wolves still haven’t faced Memphis free-agent signee Chandler Parsons. Still recovering from knee surgery last season, he sat out Saturday on the second night of back-to-back games. The 6-10 forward signed with the Grizzlies after spending the past two seasons with Dallas.
• Fizdale, when asked if it was coincidence his team had won four of five games with Parsons in the lineup before Saturday: “I don’t think that’s a coincidence at all. His talent level really impacts us.”
• Saturday’s game also was the nightcap to a FedEx Forum doubleheader. Former Gophers coach Tubby Smith coached the Memphis Tigers to a 99-86 victory over Savannah State in a late-morning game.