ANAHEIM, Calif. – Not much can be gleaned from any preseason contest, but a couple things stood out in Minnesota’s 108-99 win over Los Angeles to open the exhibition season Saturday night.
For one, the Timberwolves no longer looked like the little kids on the block. On Saturday, Los Angeles had the younger, smaller squad.
That was a role Minnesota has held for years, particularly last season. At the end of the year, coach Tom Thibodeau said the Wolves looked like a college team at times. Not so Saturday. With physical presences like Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler and other veterans such as Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford and Aaron Brooks, Minnesota won’t be mistaken for anything but a pro team this season.
The new additions made an impact in their first showing. Butler didn’t see the court in the final three quarters, after playing all of the first frame, but did plenty of damage in those first 12 minutes. He finished with 10 points, three rebounds and two assists.
From there, Butler resorted to coaching from the bench, nearly as loud and animated as Thibodeau at times.
“He’s a much better player,” Thibodeau joked. “He sees the game great though. And he’s into it. His leadership is terrific. He’s got a lot of great insights, so it’s good. Our guys talking the game is important, and that’s a big part of winning is when you’re on the floor to be able to see things and recognize when they do this, we should be doing that. I think he can help with that.”
Taj Gibson buried two corner three-pointers on his way to 18 points and nine rebounds. Gibson has made four three-pointers to this point in his career, so an improvement there would go a long way in helping the Timberwolves stretch the floor.
Then there was Shabazz Muhammad, a key re-signing for Minnesota this summer, who finished with 22 points and six rebounds while serving as the team’s sparkplug throughout.
To top it all off, the Timberwolves protected a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, played defense and rebounded – staples of veteran, winning teams – which is all Thibodeau has ever really asked for.
“It’s a baseline,” Thibodeau said.