MILWAUKEE – Since the Timberwolves lost to the Clippers on Dec. 13, they have had one of the best defenses in the NBA.
Over their past seven games, the Wolves rank fourth in defensive efficiency, allowing 101.2 points per 100 possessions.
But coach Ryan Saunders is pumping the brakes on the thought that perhaps the Wolves’ defensive system is totally jelling.
“I think we have to be careful in saying things have clicked and saying things are where we want them to be because you always want to be better,” Saunders said. “There’s a lot of things that we can improve upon. … That’s something that I think our group should feel good about but not satisfied with. A lot of that is being solid within the game plan.”
The Wolves’ recent defensive numbers coincide with the absence of center Karl-Anthony Towns, out because of a left knee sprain, and Gorgui Dieng’s insertion into the starting lineup. But Saunders said he doesn’t read too much into that.
“I don’t look at who is in, who is out, with our defense, how it’s trended as of late,” Saunders said. “A lot of times when your back is against the wall … and you’ve lost some games, you know that you have some guys out, you know that you have to be a little more locked in.”
Teague added to injured list
The list of Wolves players unable to play because of injury or illness grew by one Wednesday, with Jeff Teague joining because of a right knee sprain. Teague joined Towns, Andrew Wiggins (flu-like symptoms), Noah Vonleh (left gluteal contusion), Treveon Graham (flu-like symptoms) and Jake Layman (sprained toe).
Teague was injured in a collision with the Nets’ Taurean Prince in Monday’s game. He continued to play in that game but sat out Wednesday. It was similar to what happened with Towns, who suffered a hard fall in the Clippers game. He continued to play but hasn’t played since.
Napier can’t figure shooting slump
At a recent Wolves practice, guard Shabazz Napier was lamenting his shooting struggles, wondering why shots weren’t going in for him as they normally do, nor for the Wolves as a team.
“I can’t stress this enough, we’re shooting awful from the three-point line,” Napier said before the Wolves beat the Nets on Monday. “And it makes no sense because we’ve worked tremendously hard on that. For me personally, it’s frustrating. I feel like I’m just a practice player because I make my threes in practice, I don’t make my threes in games, which is confusing me. I’ve never been on this end of the spectrum of not making shots.”
The Wolves entered Wednesday’s game against the Bucks 29th in the league in three-point percentage at .321. Napier, a career 34% three-point shooter, is at 24% this season. But he hit three of six against the Nets and eight of 18 shots overall. .
“Guys work so hard, and for the product to be shown a certain way it’s just difficult for guys to deal with,” Napier said. “The thing for me, personally, you just got to keep going.”