At the Timberwolves' practice Thursday, Karl-Anthony Towns noticed a different feeling among his teammates coming off Tuesday's 99-94 win over the Bulls in Chicago.
There was a newfound energy.
"We came in today and had a different swagger about us," Towns said, "a different swagger that we have never had. An arrogance in a way that great teams have."
Off until Saturday, the Wolves are holding back-to-back full practices for the first time since the regular season started Oct. 26. Coach Tom Thibodeau said the opportunity to fully practice is vital for a young team trying to shore up its defensive inadequacies.
Because of travel, playing back-to-back nights and lengthy road stints, quality practice time on a team's home floor can be difficult to come by in the NBA. That is why Thibodeau is taking full advantage of the gap between games.
"For us, practicing hard and practicing well is critical," Thibodeau said. "It is not punishment, but it is what we need to do to build habits. This is all about building habits and building a foundation."
Players are embracing the opportunity to build off Tuesday, when the Wolves (7-18) overcame a 21-point deficit, the largest comeback in the NBA this season.
"[We] still try to fix those third and fourth quarters," Zach LaVine said. "We had a bad first quarter [in Chicago]. It's hard to have a perfect game, but you want to get as close as you can to that."
Rather than practicing when the Wolves are on the road, Thibodeau tends to schedule shootarounds and film sessions. That is where the Wolves try to solve what seems to be their one-quarter-per-game failures.
Limiting workouts before road games also helps the bodies of LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Towns, all in the NBA's top 20 for minutes played, recover.
LaVine trails only New Orleans forward Anthony Davis in minutes per game — 38.3 to 37.7 — and Wiggins (36.4) ranks eighth.
"You always want to take care of your body," LaVine said. "And sometimes it is more mental than physical. Seeing what you did wrong on film exactly instead of running over it in drills or practice helps more."
The news of the NBA and its players association agreeing on a new collective bargaining agreement, one that guarantees labor peace for at least six more years, could result in more practice time next season.
The new agreement, if ratified as expected, will include the season starting a week earlier, which will cut down the number of preseason games and probably eliminate stretches of four games in five days.
The Wolves' 21-year-old standouts each average more than 20 points per game (Wiggins 22.2, Towns 21.4 and LaVine 20.5) and probably aren't close to getting nights off like the league's older players, but clearly having established stars sit out games to rest is worrisome to NBA officials.
"You hate to see players sitting out of games," Thibodeau said. "It is a thing the league is concerned about. The preseason is probably a little bit longer than it needs to be. So I think there will be some more room there. … They are moving in the right direction."
Towns, the Wolves' player representative, said he was very involved in the CBA negotiations.
"It is a real proud moment for us to have that deal done and have job security for a long time," Towns said. "Not only for us but for the coaches and organization."