NEW ORLEANS – One night after declining to answer questions about a stinging home loss to Washington, Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler granted a reporter two questions regarding Wednesday’s opportunistic 120-102 victory at New Orleans.
One of the two was about teammate Tyus Jones and the past four games he has played since Achilles’ tendon soreness sidelined starting point guard Jeff Teague.
“I like that question,” Butler said.
Jones started his third consecutive game for Teague — the first three starts of his NBA career — against the Pelicans. He delivered a 16-point, six-assist, four-steal, 41½-minute performance against New Orleans, which played without superstar power forward Anthony Davis after he drew two technical fouls and was ejected late in the first half.
Jones hit a three-pointer and a floating layup that turned into a three-point play that provided six unanswered points and pushed the Pelicans away after they had cut a 20-point lead to 10 at 98-88 with eight minutes remaining.
“I’ve always liked Tyus,” Butler said. “I’ve been a fan of his since I got here. He’s constantly working to do whatever the team needs him to do. He’s always watching film on how he can better and he listens. He wants to do great for this organization and this team. Tyus is huge for us, and pretty soon it’s going to be hard to take him off the floor.”
Teague could return ready to play as soon as Friday’s game at Oklahoma City, as could reserve forward Nemanja Bjelica (midfoot sprain).
While Teague has been out, Jones averaged 11.3 points on 53.3 percent shooting, 6.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 4.0 steals and 38.3 minutes in those four games.
“Just keeps getting better,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked about Jones’ play against the Pelicans. “Go in there, we shot a very high percentage [58 percent]. We shared the ball well [seven players scored in double digits]. We were organized. That’s how you judge your point guard. I thought he’s making strides defensively, too.”
Jones was asked after Wednesday’s game what he has shown himself — or others — in these past four games.
“Just playing basketball,” Jones said. “Just playing basketball and taking advantage of an opportunity.”
Doing it all
Andrew Wiggins’ 28 points on 10-for-18 shooting from the field against the Pelicans set a season high. But it wasn’t only that number that impressed Thibodeau, because Wiggins also had eight rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot.
“That may have been Wigs’ best game as a pro in terms of all-around play,” Thibodeau said. “Not just the scoring, but the rebounding and the playmaking to go along with it.”
In the time allowed
Persistent foul trouble plagued Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns for the second time already this season against the Pelicans. Three of his five fouls were offensive charging calls; another was for setting an illegal screen.
But he reached an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double despite playing less than 21 minutes, and Thibodeau praised him for passing the ball.
“I thought KAT made some really good plays, even though he didn’t play long,” Thibodeau said. “I thought he got the ball going side to side for us.”
Ready to roll
Wolves reserve center Gorgui Dieng stepped forth with a 19-point, 36½-minute performance when Towns picked up his third foul late in the first half, his fourth seconds into the third quarter and his fifth with more than 10 minutes left to play.
Towns scored only two points and had five rebounds the first time the Wolves played Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and the Pelicans a month ago.
“I was just ready,” Dieng said. “I knew we had a back-to-back. I know [their front line is] loaded and I knew I could be needed to help the team, so I said, ‘I’m going to get myself ready.’ ”