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Alexander-Walker's threes keep Wolves from too-familiar fate

PORTLAND – The fourth quarter of Tuesday's 121-109 Timberwolves victory over Portland didn't start out how Nickeil Alexander-Walker wanted.

He had a turnover and a foul on Portland guard Scoot Henderson as Henderson was shooting a three. That resulted in Portland re-taking the lead from the Timberwolves, but it also showed how Alexander-Walker has passed an important inflection point in his career.

There were times earlier in his NBA life that those miscues would have gotten the better of Alexander-Walker. Wolves coach Chris Finch saw it when he was an assistant in New Orleans during Alexander-Walker's rookie season. Not so much now.

"He's probably grown the most with his composure,' Finch said. "He doesn't seemingly get rattled. He's always had a habit to get down on himself when he has made some tough plays, but he plays through that now, bounces back."

Did he ever come roaring back on Tuesday. Alexander-Walker caught fire in the fourth and hit four consecutive threes in the fourth during an 18-4 Wolves run that put them in control of a game that was threatening to escape from their grasp.

"Anybody who knows me knows it's not that easy. They know I struggled with that a lot," Alexander-Walker said of his composure. "I care a lot, and for so long, I had to realize that basketball is not only my identity but the game was everything for me, and so there's times where I can lose myself in the game, good and bad."

Reading has helped him keep a calmer mindset on and off the court. Last month, he detailed to the Star Tribune how the self-help books he reads help him on the court, how to trust the work he puts in over the results of shots on the floor, and how he attempts to find 'the zone," to have an out-of-body experience when he plays. Tuesday was that for him.

"It felt really good just to trust it and just let go," Alexander-Walker said. "All the work that I put in and letting my body do the work, the muscle memory taking over, and just being in the moment, of trying to win the game – turning into that felt great."

His teammates were only too happy to see his success Tuesday, especially after his fourth consecutive three, when everyone erupted off the bench. After seasons of wandering through the NBA wilderness across multiple teams, Alexander-Walker has found his niche off the bench with the Wolves a little over a year after he was essentially a throw-in piece of the trade that brought Mike Conley to Minnesota.

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"It was just about him realizing that and accepting that role and taking it by the horns," Conley said. "Because he's a guy that is talented beyond measure and can be whatever he wants to be. But for certain teams, you have to kind of come in and take a different role for a little bit. For him to accept it and truthfully be the star in that role it's really brought him all of the success he's had thus far so I'm just happy that he's locked in on that."

And he has matured enough as a player that he can rebound from a few tough moments during pressure points in a game. That's not something he was doing, even as recently as last season.

"Even though I was the one to make two mistakes, coach trusted me keeping me in and I appreciated that," Alexander-Walker said.