Almost a month ago, Jimmy Butler had to hoist the Timberwolves onto his very sore back in order for his team to come back and beat the Portland Trail Blazers by a point here at Target Center.
Weeks later, some things have changed.
Making up for a slow start with a throttling second-quarter defensive performance, once again getting scoring up and down the roster and playing with a purpose not seen in these parts since 2004, the Wolves capped a five-game homestand 5-0 with a 120-103 victory over those same Blazers on Sunday night.
The score was not indicative of how dominant the Wolves were. On Dec. 18, the Wolves barely edged Portland. Sunday, they beat the Blazers like a drum.
“We’ve come a ways,” veteran reserve Jamal Crawford said. “Now, we still have a ways to go. We’re not satisfied. We’re not … content. We have more levels we can go do. But it’s nice to be building good habits.”
The Wolves (29-16) completed the second 5-0 homestand in franchise history, the first since January 2001. They have won eight in a row at home, have won 12 of their past 15 games overall, a stretch that started with that comeback against Portland a month ago.
In this just-concluded homestand, the Wolves won five games, including four against teams currently in playoff position, by an average of 17.8 points.
“It shows growth,” said Andrew Wiggins, who scored 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting Sunday, along with four rebounds, two assists and two steals. “It shows we’re getting better every game. We’re way better than we were at the beginning of the year. Way better. We have grown a lot.”
Perhaps because of the late-arriving crowd (wonder why), the Wolves started rather sluggishly Sunday, allowing the Blazers to shoot 61.9 percent while taking a 33-31 lead after one quarter.
That did not last.
The Wolves came out with just a dominant second quarter. And it was led by a defense that held the Blazers to 2-for-15 shooting, forcing seven turnovers and holding them to 10 points, the lowest one-quarter total by a Wolves opponent this season.
The Wolves used a 14-0 run to take control of the game. For good.
The lead grew to as many as 16 in the second quarter, as big as 24 in the third. And while Portland did put together one nice run to pull within 11, the Wolves had the lead back up to 26 when coach Tom Thibodeau emptied the bench with 5:10 remaining.
“The guys are playing unselfishly,” Thibodeau said. “But I don’t want our guys to get lost in the wrong things. The important thing is to concentrate on doing the things we need to do each and every day.”
They have of late. In the homestand the Wolves shot 51.0 percent, 37.4 from three-point range while also playing good defense.
Sunday the balance was again impressive. Butler had 24 points. Jeff Teague matched a season high with 22 points and he had eight assists. Karl-Anthony Towns had 20 points and 11 rebounds. The backcourt of Butler and Teague outplayed C.J. McCollum (18 points) and Damian Lillard (21), the strength of the Portland team. Crawford scored 10 points off the bench for the Wolves.
“I think the defensive efforts we’re having in stretches are what is getting us these leads in games,” Butler said. “Yeah, we have lapses, sometimes to begin a game, sometimes later in games. But we show promise on that side of the ball.”
Lately the team is showing promise on both sides of the ball.
“We’re playing for each other,” Teague said. “We’re taking joy out of seeing someone else make a shot, make a play. We’re taking pride in defense. Team defense.”