Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio lead Wolves over Wizards, 119-104

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Karl-Anthony Towns ran back onto the court after the final horn, almost tackling Ricky Rubio as he did a postgame interview with the local Fox Sports affiliate.

Towns put up another enormous stat line, scoring 17 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter as the Minnesota Timberwolves kept rolling against another heavyweight opponent. But he said he played second fiddle on this night.

Rubio scored 22 points and broke his own franchise record with 19 assists, and the Timberwolves beat the Washington Wizards 119-104 on Monday night.

“He almost single-handedly won us this game tonight,” Towns said of his point guard. “So, we just picked up with any pieces he could give us.”

Nemanja Bjelica added 16 points and 10 boards off the bench for the Timberwolves, who entered the game 3 1/2 games behind Denver for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Minnesota shot 52 percent and Rubio topped 20 points in back-to-back games for the second time in his six-year career.

John Wall scored 27 points for the Wizards, who fell 2 1/2 games back of Cleveland for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Bradley Beal added 20 points, but Washington lost for the first time in six games. They finished a tough, five-game road trip at 4-1.

“We were ready to go 5-0. No excuses,” Wall said. “We just didn’t come out and play great defensively.”

Rubio has been playing the best basketball of his life over the last two months, and it has culminated with a brilliant week against some of the best point guards in the league. He outplayed Chris Paul and Stephen Curry in home victories over the Clippers and Warriors last week, then put up 22 points and eight assists in a loss at Milwaukee on Saturday.

But he’s never been better than in the first quarter against Wall and the Wizards. Threading bounce passes through windows that weren’t even open, Rubio doled out 10 assists in the first quarter. Bjelica was a primary beneficiary, catching a 40-foot outlet pass for a layup and a bounce pass that squeezed between two defenders and onto his fingertips for a layup that put the Wolves up 35-14.

“Some nights you see things a little different and it gets easier,” Rubio said. “Tonight in the first quarter I really saw different things out there. I was trying to set the tempo from the beginning and being aggressive.”

The Wizards were undaunted, having come back from a 21-point deficit in the first half to beat Portland on Saturday night.

Wall got off to a slow start shooting, but he attacked the rim relentlessly to help Washington climb back into the game. Wall made 14 of 19 free throws, Beal converted a four-point play and Wall’s two freebies made it 102-97 with 4:21 to play.

But Towns hit a 3 and two free throws, and the Wizards couldn’t find the energy to finish another furious comeback in their fifth game in seven nights.

“I don’t make excuses, but I’m not going to sit here and act like we’re not tired,” Beal said. “It is what it is. We take this loss like a man and we move on from it.”

TIP-INS

Wizards: Wall was chosen Eastern Conference player of the week after averaging 29.8 points and 11.3 assists. … Bojan Bogdanovic had 12 points but made just 1 of 6 3s off the bench.

Timberwolves: Towns was named Western Conference player of the week after averaging 29.0 points and 12.3 rebounds in three games last week. … Rubio’s 10 assists in the first quarter tied Paul’s third quarter against New Orleans on Dec. 10 for most in a quarter this season.

TOWNS’ TECHNICAL

Both Towns and coach Tom Thibodeau picked up technical fouls for arguing with the officials about contact against the big man in the paint. And afterward, an exasperated Thibodeau said he can’t figure out what he has to do to get more calls for Towns.

“I’m asking the officials. I’m asking the league,” Thibodeau said. “There’s a lot of contact there. He’s got to keep going, I guess.”

 

Devin Booker drops 70 points for Suns in loss to Celtics (VIDEO)

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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is just 20 years old. He’s a League Pass favorite, and indeed he should be a favorite in Phoenix for years to come. On Friday, Booker dropped 70 points — yes, 70 — in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Booker’s 70 points is the best outing of the season. It also made him the youngest player to ever reach 70 points.

His final stat line, as you might imagine, was ridiculous. Booker shot 21-of-40 from the field, going 4-of-11 on 3-pointers and a whopping 24-of-26 from the free-throw line. The Suns phenom also grabbed eight rebounds to go with six assists.

Despite the loss to Boston, 130-120, it’s still an incredible milestone for Phoenix and for Booker. There’s a bright spot out there for the Suns.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon skies to finish amazing alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Aaron Gordon may not have had the best dunk contest this year — apparently drones and dunks don’t mix well — but the guy can still get up and finish with the best in the league.

As he did on this alley-oop against Detroit.

Elfrid Payton had to throw a lob that would get over Andre Drummond, but how many guys in the league can get that high, reach back and finish that? Damn.

Former Hawk Pero Antic’s celebration accidentally punches teammate in face in Eruoleague (VIDEO)

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Former Atlanta Hawk Pero Antic is now playing for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, in case you were not aware.

Fenerbahce was facing Anadolu Efes in a EuroLeague game, it was tight late and former NBA player Ekpe Udoh was at the free throw line for Fenerbahce. He missed his second shot, but the rebound caromed out-of-bounds off an Anadolu Efes player. Antic was pumped.

Maybe a little too pumped.

Ouch.

That was Nikola Kalinic, by the way, the guy Antic now owes dinner to. Kalinic would like the dinner more than the hug and kiss he got from Antic right after the play.

Also, Anadolu Efes held on to win 80-77.

(Hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie.)

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.