Uninspiring performance still leads to victory for Timberwolves in Detroit

It wasn’t always easy nor dominant for Minnesota, but the result was the same as it’s always been against cellar dwellers this season: another victory.

Minnesota made a couple of key runs late to put away the lowly Pistons 124-117 on Wednesday in Detroit.

The Timberwolves (29-11) are 7-0 this season against the bottom six teams in the NBA standings.

Detroit (4-37) is in its own tier of terrible. The Pistons lost an NBA-record 27 straight games this season and are now missing their best player in guard Cade Cunningham. But Wolves forward Naz Reid said Tuesday that the Wolves carry a “business-like mentality” into contests against less-than-stellar competition.

“They have wins on their side,” Reid said.

Four of them, to be exact.

“So they can beat anybody at any moment. You never know what the day brings,” Reid said. “Just gotta stay focused, have a business-mind approach and keep positivity in there.”

It’d be disingenuous to say Minnesota was locked in for all 48 minutes. The Wolves trailed after the first 12 minutes after allowing 40 first-quarter points. Minnesota entered the night 19th in first-quarter defensive rating on the road, and Wednesday served as another uninspiring opening.

“We got off to a slow start today,” center Rudy Gobert said in his postgame on-court television interview. “At halftime, we weren’t really happy with the way we were playing. I thought we did a great job throughout the game of just raising our level. … It definitely feels good to win, but we have to be better.”

Minnesota played well enough for stretches to consistently keep the Pistons at bay. The Wolves’ offense hummed — a welcome sign for a team that at times has struggled on that end of the floor this season.

Minnesota tallied 32 assists while shooting 50 percent from deep. Karl-Anthony Towns was a perfect 5 for 5 from long range en route to 27 points. Anthony Edwards had 27 points and eight assists. Jaden McDaniels had his jumper going, finishing with 23 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including 3 for 4 from 3-point range.

But it was Gobert who truly controlled the contest. The big man had 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting and 16 boards.

The Wolves scored 64 points in the paint.

The offense carried the load as the defense largely took the night off. The Pistons shot 51 percent from the field as Jaden Ivey looked like an all-star, finishing with 32 points and six assists.

“I wasn’t a huge fan of our performance tonight, but we did enough to get a win, and, at the end of the day, that’s what matters. But it’s really not the standard we hoped for,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch told reporters. “We’re just trading baskets, and when that happens, everyone thinks it’s always going to be too easy. We’re a defensive-led team, and that was not acceptable, really. … They were executing their offense at a high level, but we were doing nothing to impact that.”

To Detroit’s credit, every time it looked as though the Wolves were going to pull away — Minnesota went up 13 in the middle of the third frame and led by as many as 17 early in the fourth — the Pistons had an answer.

Detroit pulled to within six with four minutes to play. But every time things got interesting, Minnesota put together a few minutes of good basketball to re-establish its advantage. An 8-0 run over 85 seconds — featuring triples by McDaniels and Towns and an Edwards layup — put the game on ice.

Minnesota is on a bit of a revenge tour from a season ago. After losing to the tanking Blazers in April, the Wolves put them away last week. The Wolves were swept by Detroit last season but finished the job Wednesday.

While they may not always obliterate the worst teams the NBA has to offer, the Wolves always find a way to emerge victorious against them, a significant development from a year ago, and a trend that must continue if the Wolves plan to hang onto their top spot in the Western Conference standings.

Wednesday was a good reminder for Minnesota that these types of games can be lost if not played with the proper approach.

“I would hope so. I think it’s a big point of emphasis at this point of the season not to lose focus, whether it be the dog days of the season, whether your opponent — if you’ve played them multiple times, whether they have a good or a bad record or they have guys in or guys out of the lineup,” Finch said. “It’s about playing to the standard that you’ve laid down, and we’ve done that for most of the season. Tonight, I think we fell a little short.

“You’re not going to have your ‘A’ game every single night, but having said that, we have to be way better than we were tonight. I thought we were worried about all the wrong things for most of the game.”

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