Garza makes most of opportunity as Wolves navigate injuries

The Timberwolves were playing without their top three centers in Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid on Tuesday.

Kyle Anderson drew the assignment of guarding Denver center Nikola Jokic in an eventual 115-112 loss at Target Center, but picked up three fouls in three minutes.

That meant it was Luka Garza time a little earlier than expected for the Wolves.

The former Iowa Hawkeye ended up playing over 22 minutes and scored 11 points and had six rebounds. It took injuries to at least two of the Wolves' centers for Garza to crack the rotation for the first time all season, and since Gobert has missed four of the past five games, first with hamstring tightness and the last three because of a bruised rib, Garza's patience at the end of the bench has finally resulted in minutes.

"I've just been working this entire year to help this team when I'm out there," Garza said. "I still feel like there's another level I can get to. All I know is I did everything I could. I played hard."

Tuesday marked his most playing time all season and the Wolves crowd, as it always is, was appreciative of his efforts.

"I never thought I'd be fans of Gopher fans," Garza said. "But I love them and they give me so much energy. Since I got here, it's been incredible the support they have for me. When I get in there, it gives me an extra boost to go even harder and get to another level. Shoutout to the home crowd."

Garza acquitted himself well in tangling with Jokic, he just left Tuesday with a few regrets — that he didn't get more physical with Jokic sooner and that a few more shots didn't fall. He was 4-for-11 from the floor and 2-for-8 from three-point range.

Teammates like Jaden McDaniels said Garza did a good job on Jokic all night.

"He held his weight," McDaniels said. "There's nothing more we can ask from him from tonight."

Garza has worked hard to shed the label of being a liability on the defensive end. He said he has worked hard to improve "my feet, my movement, my strength, everything."

"There's another level I can get to," Garza said. "I know I'm going to get there because I'm going to work as hard as I can to improve myself on that end. I just want to be able to go out there and be a solid defender, and then make up for everything on the offensive end because I know, no matter what, if I go out there, I'm going to score the ball and when the ball is in my hand I'm going to make the right play."

The Wolves play again Friday, and Gobert came into Tuesday as a game-time decision while Finch said he didn't expect Reid to be out long. So Garza's time in the rotation may be short-lived, but he has helped the Wolves go 2-2 in the games Gobert has missed.

"I stayed as sharp as I could, tried to stay in shape," Garza said. "I felt a little gassed tonight. I'm going to continue to do that, be that guy who is always ready to help this team in whatever way I can."