MINNEAPOLIS (AP) —Luka Doncic scored 29 points and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer to lead the Dallas Mavericks over the Minnesota Timberwolves 119-115 on Friday night, spoiling rookie coach Ryan Saunders’ home debut.
Doncic nearly recorded a triple-double, finishing with 12 assists and eight rebounds. He scored seven of Dallas’ final nine points.
Taj Gibson gave the Timberwolves the lead at 115-114 with a tip-in of Jeff Teague‘s miss with 35.7 seconds left. But with 22.9 to play, Doncic hit a pull-up 3 to put the Mavericks ahead for good.
Harrison Barnes scored 23 points and Dwight Powell made his first seven shots from the floor and finished with 15 points for the Mavericks. JJ Barea came off the bench to add 16 points.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 30 points and 11 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who were playing their first home game since Saunders was named interim coach.
Saunders, who received a loud ovation from the Target Center crowd before the game, took over as coach after Tom Thibodeau was relieved of his duties Sunday. he won his first game in charge Tuesday at Oklahoma City. Saunders is the son of the late Flip Saunders, the winningest coach in Timberwolves history. A banner hangs in the Target Center rafters in honor of Flip Saunders, who died in 2015.
The closest it’s ever happened – and this is a funny story – is that in 2006, we thought we getting the second overall pick in the draft from Chicago. And we were going to pick LaMarcus Aldridge. And it wound up being that Chicago was offering us their second first-round pick in the draft, which was pick 16. It turned into Rodney Carney. So, that’s the closest that we’ve ever come to backing out or a deal was agreed upon and going from there.
The Bulls might as well have sent the No. 2 to pick to the Nets. On draft night, Chicago dealt No. 2 pick LaMarcus Aldridge to the Trail Blazers for No. 4 pick Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa. The Bulls got more value from No. 16 pick Rodney Carney, trading up with the 76ers for No. 13 pick Thabo Sefolosha, who was a helpful role player in Chicago then flipped for a pick that became Taj Gibson. In that 2006 draft, the Nets picked Marcus Williams No. 22 and Josh Boone No. 23.
The big difference between this non-deal and the Brooks mishap: It didn’t reach the point active players were informed and details were leaked to the media. That’s harder to walk back and maybe part of the reason the Suns and Wizards still swapped Trevor Ariza for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers after the Grizzlies pulled out.
Three Things to Know: Rockets beat Jazz behind Harden’s 47, has Houston turned it around?
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Rockets beat Jazz behind James Harden’s 47, is Houston turning it around? It was a “battle” of the two most disappointing teams in the Western Conference — just about every pundit (myself included) projected the Rockets and Jazz to finish second and third in the West in some order. They came into the night 10th and 13th in the West — both out of the playoffs if they started today.
And both needed a win — in the tight Western Conference any game between playoff contenders counts double (and there seems to be a game or three like this every night now).
Houston got the win, 102-97, because MVP James Harden showed up and took over: 47 points, six rebounds, five assists, and five steals.
That’s the second time in four days Harden has been in vintage form, he dropped 50 on the Lakers and frustrated them just days before. Harden is the master and showing the ball and drawing fouls, and he has the best step-back in the game — although this one was more than a gather and step. Harden got away with one.
The Rockets have now won four in a row, are over .500 at 15-14 for the first time since Nov. 23rd. They are just half a game back of the final playoff slot in the West.
Have the Rockets turned it around?
Depends on how you define “turned it around.”
The Rockets offense has been elite and their defense average — which is a big step up, they are still fifth worst in the league on the season — in these four games. Harden has taken over two of them. That recipe, if it continues, should get Houston into the playoffs in the West. In that sense, they have turned it around, they are performing at the level of a playoff team, which is a step up.
But just making the playoffs was never the goal in Houston — this was a team that was ahead of Golden State at halftime of games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals last season and within a step of reaching the Finals (and winning a ring). This season they wanted to take that next step.
The Rockets aren’t at that level yet, and this roster — as currently constructed — cannot get there. Houston was a top-10 defense last season and this roster has not shown it can get near, let alone sustain, that level. Houston’s defensive switching isn’t as smooth as a season ago, and teams are attacking it differently (not just trying to post up Harden or Chris Paul). Houston doesn’t have the personnel on this roster to adapt and thrive against the way the NBA is adjusting, they are thin at the wings, and come the playoffs they are farther away from Golden State, not closer.
Which is why everyone expected them to go harder for a Trevor Ariza trade, not only do they miss him the Rockets need wing help and he’s the best one available. They didn’t. And here we are:
Houston is playing a lot better, but not at the level they had hoped. If you want to call that turning it around, go ahead.
2) Milestones night in Bay Area: Stephen Curry reaches 15,000 points, Kevin Durant passes Larry Bird on the all-time scoring list. For Stephen Curry, it appropriately happened on a deep pull-up three — he passed the 15,000 point mark in his career.
Curry is the fifth Warrior to score 15K all in a Warriors’ uniform, and the other names are all legends and Hall of Famers: Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Paul Arizin and Chris Mullin. Chamberlain scored the most as a Warrior at 17,783, a number Curry likely passes next season.
With all the attention paid to Curry — still the golden child for Bay Area fans — nobody seemed to notice Kevin Durant passed Hall of Famer Larry Bird for 33rd on the all-time scoring list during the same game. (Durant is 38th if you count ABA scoring in the mix, just for the record.) KD is going to finish way up that list by the time his career ends.
By the way, the Warriors cruised past the Grizzlies 110-93 in the kind of easy win Golden State hasn’t seen enough of this season.
3) Taj Gibson doesn’t need two shoes to play good defense. Credit Tom Thibodeau for coming up with a new way to play defense.
Taj Gibson had the ball in his hands and had gone at the Kings’ Nemanja Bjelica in the post, eventually scoring but losing his shoe. Gibson picked up his shoe and ran back down the court with it in his hands, but Sacramento pushed the ball back up the floor and decided to have Bjelica attack the one shoe/one sock Gibson.
NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
Maybe Butler and Thibodeau can thrive in this chaotic, energetic, intense environment. It seems the weight of it could crush everyone else, though.
This all reflects terribly on Thibodeau, who let the Butler situation linger over the summer. Chemistry matters, and an unhappy Butler trying to torment Towns and Wiggins into playing with more fire could just burn everyone involved. It was bad enough last year when the young players thought Butler could be there a while. If they expect him to leave next summer in free agency, will they just tune him out until then? If that happens, will Butler become even harder on them? This could get ugly in a hurry.
That said, it’s not as if Minnesota had great chemistry last season, either. This is still such a talented team. Heck, even if the Timberwolves trade Butler by the trade deadline, he might first help them stack enough wins to make the playoffs. Hope isn’t lost.
Most importantly, Minnesota locked up Towns to a long-term extension. No matter what happens with Butler, the 22-year-old star is staying a while.
The Timberwolves also did tinkering to help over the summer. Signing Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, two ex-Bulls, will generate plenty of laughs, but those two for the minimum is fine. So was drafting Josh Okogie No. 20 and Keita Bates-Diop No. 48.
Minnesota’s biggest signing was Anthony Tolliver for one year, $5.75 million – which, to stay under the luxury-tax line, required letting Nemanja Bjelica go. I considered Tolliver an upgrade as the Timberwolves’ stretch four, though part of that calculation considered Tolliver’s positive effect in the locker room.
In that area, it might be too little, too late.
Offseason grade: D
Jimmy Butler’s camp reportedly says concerns about salary ‘manufactured’ by Wolves brass
There are more spin doctors at work around the Jimmy Butler trade request than there are working congressional campaigns right now.
Among the flood of reports that came out was one that Butler’s primary issue was his salary — he wanted Minnesota to clear cap space so he could renegotiate his current deal to near a max contract, then extend him off of that deal. That the issue was less personal with Towns and more about the money.
To add to the Butler drama there have been multiple reports in the Minneapolis area to come out this week that money was the main sticking point for Butler to demand his departure, but a source in his camp told the Sun-Times on Friday that it was “manufactured’’ by “ownership mouthpieces’’ to make Butler look bad….
According to the source, this is about a philosophy in making an impact in the Western Conference, and in Butler’s mind you can’t run down a dynasty like Golden State when two of the so-called dogs in the pack are in fact kittens.
Two thoughts here. First, this report makes more sense — to give the Butler the kind of raise talked about would have required gutting the Timberwolves roster. Meaning the would have had to dump guys that have value such as Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson, or they would have had to find a sucker to take on the contracts of Andrew Wiggins or Gorgui Dieng, and to do that would have required sending out quality talent or picks as sweeteners. Butler is smart and understands the NBA business, he would know this was never going to happen, he realizes his money was going to come as a free agent next summer. The idea he demanded this always smelled fishy.
Second, Butler and a lot of people want to lump Towns and Wiggins together as players who don’t work hard, don’t have much of a motor, and don’t seem to love the game. Nobody who has watched Wiggins play — especially last season — is going to put up much of an argument about that in his case. Wiggins looks like an anchor contract, unless he suddenly sees the light.
Towns, however, is different. His game has improved year-to-year, he does have a good motor on the court (at least on offense), and he does put in work in the off-season. Maybe he is young and doesn’t wear it on his sleeve like Butler, and certainly Towns was taught some tough lessons in the playoffs by Clint Capela last season, but Towns is not Wiggins. Towns was an All-NBA player last season for a reason. Lumping him and Wiggins together is a mistake.