Knowing it likely would be their last opportunity, the Timberwolves walked onto the Target Center floor Wednesday night and gave Sam Mitchell a victory.
It was fan appreciation night, the regular-season finale, and likely the last time Mitchell, interim coach since Flip Saunders was lost to cancer before the season began, will roam the sideline in front of the Minnesota bench.
The Wolves have begun the process of identifying and hiring a new coach and head of basketball operations by looking outside the organization. Meeting with the media before the game, Mitchell was accepting of the news. And he had to appreciate the way the team played later in the evening in a 144-109 victory over New Orleans.
In a word: Wonderfully.
On an evening that began with sobering news, the Wolves played with a joy not often seen at Target Center this season. Minnesota finished the season 29-53 — 13 more victories than a year ago — and 14-27 at home. It was the Wolves’ biggest victory margin of the season, and the most points the Wolves ever have scored in a game.
The Wolves took advantage of a New Orleans team besieged by injuries. Minnesota had a 24-4 run in the first quarter to take a 20-point lead, led by as many as 30 in the second quarter and by 35 in the third.
Hitting from three point range (twice), on midrange jumpers, dunks and drives to the hoop, presumptive rookie of the year Karl-Anthony Towns scored 28 points with 14 rebounds. He hugged Mitchell when he was removed from the game for good midway through the final quarter.
Gorgui Dieng also had a double-double (20 points, 11 rebounds). Andrew Wiggins scored 21 and Zach LaVine had 19. Shabazz Muhammad had 28 off the bench.
With warm weather and a Twins game across the street, but crowd wasn’t huge. But the fans appreciated the wide-open nature of the game, which saw the Wolves shoot 65.1 percent, get 26 points on the fast break and 80 points in the paint.
The Wolves set season highs in points, field goals (56), three-pointers made (13) and assists (41) and tied a season high with 14 steals.
With the result long decided, perhaps the only drama left was how the game would end.
Mitchell watched the final minutes of the game, relaxed, his hands clasped. After it ended he went over and hugged New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, shook a few hands, then walked off the court and down the tunnel.