The Wizards (38-29) have split the first eight games of a 12-game gauntlet against opponents who all have winning records, but are coming off one of their worst losses of the season, a 129-102 thrashing administered by Miami on Saturday that cut into their lead atop the Southeast Division.
While playing on the back end of consecutive nights, the poor effort was all the more surprising considering the Heat played without starting center Hassan Whiteside and lost veteran guard Dwyane Wade to a hamstring injury in the first half. Yet the Wizards gave up 43 third-quarter points, conceded 76 points in the paint and allowed Miami to shoot a blistering 59.1 percent, the highest mark allowed by Washington this season.
Jodie Meeks scored a season-high 23 points off the bench in extended minutes as Washington now look to avoid their sixth loss in eight games.
Minnesota (39-29) remain in the hunt for the Northwest Division title as they look for consistency without injured All-Star guard Jimmy Butler. They snapped a three-game skid with a 109-103 victory over Golden State on Sunday.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 14 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter and pulled down 16 rebounds while Andrew Wiggins added 23 points for the Timberwolves, who limited the defending NBA champions, albeit without injured guard Stephen Curry, to 19 points in the final period. The Wolves are 5-7 without Butler and have split the six games since Butler tore his meniscus.
Three keys to the game
Disappointment abound after Wizards loss - Scott Brooks called it "unacceptable" and told The Washington Post his team "didn't offer any resistance." Otto Porter said "I think they scored 100 points in the paint," and Bradley Beal added, "They just brought it to us, plain and simple." How ever you want to look at this loss for the Wizards, it begins and ends with a complete lack of effort on the defensive end. If there is a silver lining, it's that the Wizards are 5-2 in games following double-digit defeats.
Wolves maturing into playoff-caliber team - It's been 13 years since the Timberwolves made the playoffs and 12 since they last had a winning season, so there have been plenty of false dawns over the past decade in Minnesota. Yet the vibe after Sunday's win was unmistakably confident as the Timberwolves rode their All-Star center to a win.
“I think the young guys grew up today,” Wolves veteran point guard Jeff Teague told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “They played hard. They saw a playoff atmosphere. It was an intense game. They have really talented players over there, and we came out and played hard.”
Wizards' Wall still on the mend - John Wall's original timeline to be sidelined following his knee surgery was six-to-eight weeks, and it looks like it will be eight as he took another step forward in his rehab. Wall was making cuts and taking jumpers before Saturday's game while also trying floating shots and pushing off one foot in a workout that lasted over 30 minutes.
Matchup to watch
C Karl-Anthony Towns vs C Marcin Gortat - Towns may be the most understated All-Star in the NBA, one who lets his numbers do the talking. While they were plenty loud after Sunday's clutch performance, it's also nothing new for the top overall pick of the 2015 draft. Towns has shown an almost Tim Duncan-like consistency for double-doubles, posting 57 in 68 games this season and 171 in his 232 career NBA contests.
That is the most in the NBA over the past two-plus seasons, with only Pistons center Andre Drummond (164) and Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (163) over 131 in that stretch. And with Wizards center Marcin Gortat part of a beleaguered team-wide defensive effort in which he was a minus-19 in just 17 minutes of play, Towns could have another big night.
Minnesota Timberwolves projected starting lineup
PG - Jeff Teague | SG - Andrew Wiggins | C - Karl-Anthony Towns | SF - Nemanja Bjelica | PF - Taj Gibson
Washington Wizards projected starting lineup
PG - Tomas Satoransky | SG - Bradley Beal | C - Marcin Gortat | SF - Otto Porter Jr. | PF - Markieff Morris
Towns had a double-double in the first game between the teams, totaling 20 points and 17 rebounds in Minnesota's 92-89 home loss November 28. The seven-footer is five for five in double-doubles against the Wizards, averaging 23.6 points and 13.0 rebounds while shooting 52.4 percent.
Wiggins struggled in the November loss, going five of 15 from the field and finishing with 13 points and four assists. He has played better in Washington than at home against the Wizards, scoring 41 points there last season and averaging 22.0 points in three games there compared to 16.0 points per game in four home clashes while failing to reach 20 in any of them.
One of Beal's five games this season in which he failed to reach double figures came against Minnesota in November as he shot two for 11 and finished with eight points. It was the first time in nine games versus the Timberwolves he failed to reach double figures and has averaged 18.6 points in those games while shooting 50 percent from 3-point range (22 for 44) and 43.6 percent overall.
Porter has shot 50 percent or better in 16 of his last 19 games, averaging 18.6 points on 55.2 percent shooting in that span while also pulling down 6.8 rebounds per game. He had 22 points and eight rebounds in the win this season, lifting his lifetime averages to 11.8 points and 5.1 rebounds in eight meetings.
The Wizards are four-point favorites, with the line moving half a point in Minnesota's direction since its open. Even with the Timberwolves win over the Warriors last time out, they do not have many trends in their favor. Washington are 10-2 against the spread in their last 12 home games versus Minnesota, and the home team has also covered in 12 of the last 16 meetings.
The Timberwolves have failed to cover in their last six matchups against Southeast Division teams, and are 1-5 against the spread in their last six road games and 3-9 against the number in their last 12 overall. Washington have not been good to bettors at home of late, going 4-9-1 in their last 14 games at Capital One Arena and also have failed to cover in their last four there when facing a team with a sub-.400 winning percentage.
The over/under has slipped 1.5 points to 216, with the over looking to hit for the fifth time in the last six matchups in the nation's capital. While the over has hit seven straight times when Washington is at home against a team with a sub-.400 road winning percentage, the under has hit four times in their last five home games and six times in their last eight overall.
The over has gone 10-3 in Minnesota's last 13 games and in their last four against Eastern Conference teams, but the under has come through in the last four versus Southeast Division squads.
The mindsets of each team could not be in more opposite directions than right now after the discrepancy in effort and results from their last contest. The Wizards recognized Saturday's disheartening defeat as an opportunity lost since they could have moved into third place in the Eastern Conference.
Instead, they entered play Monday fifth, and even with Gortat being a minus-19, he was still the best defensive player in terms of advanced stats Saturday. Washington still harbors hope of catching Cleveland for fourth and potentially Indiana for third as these two teams vie for the Central Division title, with one of those teams all but certain to be their first-round playoff opponent, but the Wizards need to improve and improve quickly.
The Timberwolves have even less margin of error given how compressed the third through tenth spots are in the Western Conference. Like the Wizards, they are without an All-Star in Butler, but coach Tom Thibodeau is not the person who will ask for any pity in the stretch run.
By and large, this is the team people expected Minnesota to be; one that made a leap into playoff contention and is now learning to seal the deal. Sunday's victory is only a huge step forward if they follow it up with another strong effort here, even if it winds up being a loss. Teague talked about how the young Wolves were mature Sunday, and here is their chance to back that up.
If the Wolves establish Towns early and Wiggins attacks the rim, this could be another long night for the Wizards. Washington have shown resiliency after heavy losses before, but the hedge here is Minnesota has just enough momentum from Sunday to escape with a 105-103 victory.
The game will be televised nationally on NBA TV and locally on NBC Sports Washington D.C. and Fox Sports North. Tip-off time is 7 pm EDT.
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