The Minnesota Timberwolves — the Jazz of the North, as I like to call them — are currently the winningest team in the Western Conference and, after a 101-90 win over the Utah Jazz, they are tied for the best record in the league.
This success for the Timberwolves this season has largely been attributed to Anthony Edwards, who has been just incredible. But on Thursday night against the Jazz, the Timberwolves were playing without Edwards for the first time this season, and it allowed the rest of the Minnesota roster to really earn the praise they deserve, especially the three former Jazzmen, who helped power them to victory over the Jazz.
Rudy Gobert’s defensive prowess is something that Jazz fans are more than familiar with. They watched it blossom from potential into three Defensive Player of the Year awards while he was in Utah.
Gobert was expectedly good on defense against the Jazz on Thursday, but he also put up a necessary 15 points to go with 13 rebounds.
While Karl-Anthony Towns was the T’Wolves’ leading scorer with 32 points, doing his part to make up for Edwards’ missing 26 points per game, it was another former Jazzman who was the second leading scorer for Minnesota.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker was considered to be a bit of a toss-in when he was included in the trade that sent Mike Conley to the Wolves to join Gobert, but the flashes that he started to show while in Utah have continued in a big way in Minnesota.
Alexander-Walker has started for the Timberwolves in the last five straight games, and when his team needed a bit of a boost, he was there with 20 points. But it was his defense, as it always has been, that played the biggest role on Thursday.
“Nickeil is a very good player,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said. “He’s really turned his identity into being a perimeter defender first ... I’ve had the pleasure of coaching Nickeil, he’s a wonderful human being and works his butt off every single day. I thought that his intensity on the perimeter defensively set the stage for their defense.”
And of course there was ol’ reliable, Conley, who despite foul trouble in the first half was still able to be the maestro of the game, with eight points, seven assists and two steals.
The Jazz, on the second night of a back-to-back without Lauri Markkanen (left hamstring) and Jordan Clarkson (right thigh contusion) were facing an uphill battle before the game even started and a solid first half made things look like they could turn in the Jazz’s favor.
But with the help of the trio of former Jazz men, the Timberwolves turned in a 35-19 third quarter and ran away with the win.