3 Things That Can Keep Timberwolves atop Western Conference for Good

Timberwolves: Gobert
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When you’re in first place, everybody is coming after you. That’s what the Minnesota Timberwolves are experiencing now. Despite a 24-8 record, the Wolves are just 1.5 games ahead of the defending-NBA champion Denver Nuggets and fellow upstart Oklahoma City Thunder.

As we gear up for the final 3 1/2 months of the regular season, what do the Wolves need to do to keep that lead? Here are three things …

Minnesota Timberwolves’ offensive efficiency needs to improve

Timberwolves: McDaniels
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The Timberwolves are 19th in the NBA in offensive rating, a measurement of how many points it scores per 100 possessions. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the only team with a winning record that ranks below the Wolves in this rating.

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They also rank 19th for pace, an estimate of the number of possessions per 48 minutes by a team. If they want to be a contender for the NBA title, they’ll need to improve in both categories. They’re scoring 113 points per game, which ranks 21st. They rank 24th in the league in 3-point attempts.

Only the Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons average more turnovers. The Wolves had 16 turnovers in a recent win against the Dallas Mavericks, 12 in the first half against the Los Angeles Lakers and 13 in a loss against New York. The Knicks scored 23 points off those turnovers.

Minnesota is winning because it plays the best defense in the league. The Timberwolves give up an average of 107 points per game and are first in the NBA in defensive rating. But the offense has to get going if they are going to make a deep run in the West.

Timberwolves need to get Karl-Anthony Towns going, really going

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It seems like a long time ago now, when Karl-Anthony Towns would average around 25 points and 11 rebounds per game like he did from 2018-19 season to 2021-22.

What is the issue? Maybe it’s the pace, with the Wolves ranking 19th, meaning there are are fewer possessions to get him involved. Maybe it’s the system, allowing Anthony Edwards freedom to take over. Not a bad strategy, since Edwards is averaging 26.3 points and shooting 46%.

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With Rudy Gobert in the lineup, Towns often has mismatches in his favor. The Wolves need to take advantage of that more. In games he has scored more than 30 points, they are undefeated.

Towns missed only one shot in a game against New Orleans earlier in the season, but he only took 11 shots. He has taken 12 or fewer shots in 12 games. That doesn’t need to happen.

Continue to channel the confidence, determination of Anthony Edwards

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In that big recent game against the Lakers, Edwards played 38 minutes — most of that with three fouls — and scored 31 points and had three blocks.

He repeatedly drove to the basket, into the heart of the Lakers defense, which led to 11 free throws and, despite struggling from outside for most of the game, hit two key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

He has come up with some of his best games in the Wolves’ biggest games. He had 44 against Dallas, 37 against Indiana, 38 against Boston and 33 against Golden State.

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Edwards plays with a confidence that’s contagious. Even though the Wolves had have several high draft picks throughout the teens, it was Edwards that finally put them into contention.

In 34 years of existence, Minnesota had never held the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference for more than 10 days. This season, the Wolves have been in first since early November. More than anyone, Edwards has fueled that run.

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