LOS ANGELES — Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.
1) Timberwolves beat Kings, move into in top six, could be playoff sleeper
When talk turns to dangerous teams in the bottom half of the West bracket, the conversation gravitates toward the established big names — Stephen Curry and the Warriors, LeBron James and the Lakers, Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers.
But for the past few weeks (maybe since the All-Star break), the Minnesota Timberwolves have been the best team in that group. It hasn’t always shown up in the win column — although after beating the Kings Monday night they have four in a row — but there has been maturity and chemistry to their game. Fitting Karl-Anthony Towns back in after he missed more than 50 games could have been tricky, but instead, it has inspired game-winning shots and improved play (although he sat out Monday night on a back-to-back).
Monday night’s win is nothing to overlook — going to Sacramento and picking up a victory that denied the Kings the chance to officially clinch their first playoff spot in 16 seasons in front of their home fans is no small thing. The Timberwolves were attacking the rim.
“We know we have the talent and the personnel to be able to beat anybody on any given night,” Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert said, via the Associated Press. “Really out of urgency and consistency … we play every game like it’s our last and we play every game like there’s no tomorrow. That’s the mindset that we need.”
Minnesota is showing a balance and maturity of game that was lacking much of the season. It starts with trading away D'Angelo Russell and bringing in Mike Conley at the point, adding a traditional point guard and floor general to the mix (rather than a player who creates more for themselves). Conley’s veteran presence can be felt across this team.
Jaden McDaniels has been locking guys down on defense. Anthony Edwards — back quickly from a sprained ankle that could have been much worse — has turned into a quality shot creator but adds another athletic defender. Gobert finally started to find his space and had 16 points and 16 rebounds against the Kings. Naz Ried has been a force of nature off the bench lately.
With the win, Minnesota tied Golden State for the No.6 seed in the West at 39-37, and moved ahead of the Warriors officially because the Timberwolves have the tiebreaker after beating them Sunday. This Minnesota team could avoid the play-in if they keep racking up wins — and if they are the No.6 seed they likely draw this Kings team in the first round.
The questions about how this team will handle a small-ball team that can space the floor over a seven-game series remain, but they showed Monday against the Kings they may have the answer to that question.
The most dangerous teams in the playoffs are often the ones that look the best over the season’s final weeks, and in this Western Conference that makes the Timberwolves a threat.
2) Luka Dončić with the assist of the season.
Are. You. Kidding. Me.
Luka Dončić made the pass of the season Monday night. Trapped in the corner by two defenders, Dončić lept in the air, spun and threw a bullet skip pass to Jaden Hardy for 3.
Even Dončić was impressed with that dime.
The Mavericks entered the night desperate for a win after losing four straight, they needed the win to try to climb back into the play-in. Dončić wasn’t even expected to be on the court earlier in the day, but was cleared to play earlier when the NBA rescinded his 16th technical of the season, which would have triggered an automatic one-game suspension. With 25 points from Dončić leading the way, the Mavericks beat a shorthanded Pacers team without Tyrese Haliburton or Myles Turner, 127-104.
Losers of three straight, and with the Heat lurking just a couple of games back in the loss column, the Knicks needed a win. Enter the Houston Rockets.
Jalen Brunson remained out but Immanuel Quickley stepped up with a career-high 40 points on 14-of-18 shooting, plus he had nine assists, and the Knicks picked up a needed 137-115 victory.
Julius Randle added 26 points, RJ Barrett had 19 and Obi Toppin finished with 15 for the Knicks. New York was moving the ball and finished with a season-high 35 assists.
It was exactly the kind of win the Knicks needed. It’s hard to see them falling out of the No. 5 seed.
BONUS THING TO KNOW: Are you kidding me, Russell Westbrook?
The Clippers got the 124-112 win over the Bulls without that shot, but still.