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Timberwolves starting to find themselves under Tom Thibodeau

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Timberwolves led by nine-point with under five minutes to play when the Orlando Magic made their charge.

Over the next three minutes, that lead disappeared, just as so many others had earlier in the season. They still trailed with 10 seconds to play when Andrew Wiggins took the ball, dribbled once to his left to create a sliver of daylight between himself and Aaron Gordon and drilled a 21-footer to tie the game.

It was Wiggins’ second clutch shot in the last week, one that helped the Timberwolves eventually defeat the Magic in overtime for their eighth victory in the last 11 games. And it marked the continuing evolution of a young team that is trying to put a miserable start to the year behind it and get back into the Western Conference playoff picture.

After starting the season a disappointing 6-18 under first-year coach Tom Thibodeau, the Wolves have started to show signs of turning a corner in the new year. They have the third-best record in the league over the last 11 games and sit just three games out of the eighth seed in the West heading into a game at Cleveland on Wednesday night.

“The thing that we’ve wanted since the beginning was to get in a rhythm and we’re starting to find one,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. “Now it’s just about staying disciplined, staying with the method that has been working and not deviating from the path.”

Straight from the coach’s mouth. Thibodeau has been demanding of his young charges through the first three months of the season, emphasizing consistency in approach and exactness in execution as the keys to long-term success. He still doesn’t hide his displeasure on the sideline with a missed rotation or a rushed jumpshot – the local cable network that broadcasts Timberwolves games has turned down some of the microphones near Thibodeau on the sideline so his growling isn’t quite as audible for audiences watching at home. But he has been quick to point out that he has been pleased with the work ethic he has seen from the team.

“We’re just trying to build the right habits,” Thibodeau said. “You don’t want to get too excited with a win. You don’t want to get too down after a loss. Just learn and improve because they keep coming. I like the direction that we’re moving in because of the way we’re practicing and preparing each day. But there’s a long way to go for us.”

Minnesota was still just 11-26 after giving up a nine-point lead in the final three minutes of a home loss to the Utah Jazz on Jan. 7, but the team points to a game in Chicago against Thibodeau’s former team as a bit of a milestone. The Wolves trailed by 21 points in the second quarter of that game, but rallied for a 99-94 victory that started the set the tone for the team going forward. Going into that game, the Wolves were 27th in the league in defensive rating, a startling statistic for a team coached by one of the best defensive minds in the game.

Since that game, however, the Wolves are seventh in the league in defensive rating (105.2 points per 100 possessions) and eighth in overall net rating (plus-1.9). The result has been a 13-11 record over that span, which is much more in line with what the expectations were at the start of the season for a team that has not made the playoffs since 2004.

Over the last two weeks, Towns is second and Wiggins is third in “clutch” field goal percentage – situations where the score is within five points in the final five minutes of the game – according to NBA.com. Only Kevin Durant has been better.

The schedule gets more challenging with games at Cleveland on Wednesday and at Detroit on Friday before a six-game home stand begins on Saturday against Memphis.

“If you’re doing the right things, the results will come,” Thibodeau said. “When they can see that, that helps. The challenge for us is how do we speed up the process? And it’s by how we work. We always say the magic is in the work.

Stephen Curry Curry to play Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic

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HAYWARD, Calif. (AP) — Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry is set to test his golf game against the pros.

The Web.com Tour said Wednesday that Curry, coming off his second NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors, will play in the Ellie Mae Classic at TPC Stonebrae on Aug. 3-6.

It’ll be the first PGA Tour-sanctioned event for Curry, who has competed in various celebrity events and pro-ams. The top 25 on Web.com Tour’s regular-season money list will earn PGA Tour cards.

Curry will maintain his amateur status, competing on an unrestricted sponsor exemption in the event that benefits the Warriors Community Foundation.

Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice played in the event in 2011 and 2012. He missed the cut in 2011 with rounds of 83 and 76 and withdrew in 2012 after playing 27 holes in 23 over.

Also Wednesday, Nissan’s upscale Infiniti brand announced that Curry would be its new global brand ambassador. The point guard will be featured in ads for the Q50 sports sedan beginning this summer.

Report: Clippers never committed to offer Chris Paul five-year max contract

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The Clippers projected to be able to offer Chris Paul a five-year, $201 million contract that would have culminated with a $46 million salary in his final season.

Did they offer that much before sending him to the Rockets?

Just as one side is trying to pin all the Clippers’ problems on Doc Rivers and Austin Rivers, the Clippers surely want to spin Paul’s exit to another way – that they shrewdly chose when to part ways rather than that they lost the best player in franchise history due to nepotism.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

If Paul really wanted that five-year max, he could have pushed harder for it by bringing counter offers to the Clippers in July rather than engineering his way to Houston before free agency even began.

Would the Clippers have eventually relented and offered the five-year max? We can never know for certain.

But it’s pretty clear why the Clippers would want this version out there. Accurate or not, it makes them seem far more on top of things and is less likely to taint them with free agents they covet in 2018.

How Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza complicate Rockets’ pursuit of third star

AP Photo/John Raoux
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After pairing Chris Paul and James Harden, the Rockets are reportedly chasing a third starPaul George, Carmelo Anthony or someone else.

But Houston parted with significant assets to land Paul from the Clippers. And the Rockets will have a tricky time dealing two remaining players, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Unloading Ryan Anderson to sign Paul outright would have helped Houston keep one of their outgoing guards, but the market for the three years and $60 million left on Anderson’s deal was frigid. Not even the Kings wanted him for free. At least two teams would have demanded two Houston first-round picks in exchange for absorbing Anderson, according to several league sources.

The salary filler probably can’t be Trevor Ariza, by the way. Ariza and Paul are close after years together in New Orleans, and playing with Ariza factored at least a little into Paul’s decision, per league sources. The Clippers had tried to trade for him in prior seasons, sources say. Ariza is also still good at a coveted position, and his Bird Rights will be valuable to a capped-out Rockets team next summer.

Anderson would be dangerous as a stretch four in pick-and-pops with Paul and Harden. Even if he’s overpaid, might be better to keep him than surrender more assets to dump him.

Likewise, Ariza is a nice two-way player and can play small-ball four. There’s a use for him on this team.

But beyond them, Houston is left with Eric Gordon and Clint Capela as movable players. Gordon, with a higher salary and less obvious fit with Paul and Harden, would almost certainly be a key cog in a trade for another star. Capela is younger and more valuable, though the Rockets would probably want to keep him as a defensive anchor.

That might not be possible while trading for a third star, though. Houston can’t even guarantee sending out another first-round pick in a trade after sending a protected first-rounder to the Clippers. (The Rockets could agree to convey a first-rounder two years after sending one to L.A., which would is highly likely to convey next year.) Including Capela in a trade might be the only way to assemble a suitable package.

Even then, Houston would be hard-pressed to surpass an offer from the Lakers or Celtics for George. Plus, if Indiana is rebuilding around Myles Turner, Capela is an awkward fit. That trade might require a third team – causing further complications.

Hoping Anthony gets bought out by the Knicks then signs for the mid-level exception is much simpler – though that route returns the lesser third star.

But Daryl Morey just brought Chris Paul to Houston before free agency even began. Now is not the time to underestimate the Rockets general manager.

Report: Knicks won’t consider Isiah Thomas to run front office

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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A couple years ago, Knicks owner James Dolan said there was no scenario Isiah Thomas would return to the Knicks.

But Dolan also said a few months ago he’d keep Phil Jackson for the duration of Jackson’s five-year contract.

With Dolan effectively firing Jackson today, could Thomas become the Knicks’ next president?

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

The Post also learned Liberty president Isiah Thomas would not be considered for Jackson’s successor.

It’s sad that this needs to be reported. It’s even sadder that, even if this the Knicks’ plans right now, there are no assurances Dolan holds steady.

Dumping Jackson is a reason to celebrate. But as long as Dolan owns the team, it must be a reserved celebration.

At least the Knicks’ next step won’t include Thomas. Probably.