Timberwolves blow out Orlando to snap losing skid

The Timberwolves ended their three-game losing streak Sunday with a blast. Minnesota thumped Orlando 128-96 on the road for its largest victory of the season.

The Wolves led by 30 at the break, matching their biggest halftime lead in franchise history.

“It was nice. Really nice,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “We haven’t had one of those since I’ve been here, for sure. Really good approach, which we’ve talked about today. This game was going to be about our approach, our effort and our execution early. We wanted to get off to a big start.”

Sure, Orlando’s roster isn’t great, and the Magic are down a couple key guys. But this same team entered Sunday’s contest as winners of three of its last six games. And even if the Magic are currently in cruise control, it still shows growth that Minnesota didn’t allow its opponent to affect its performance.

“We were just in that position, what the Magic are going through and how it was just a lot of, I don’t want to say unorganized things going on, I don’t want to put that on their team. But you had a lot of movement, a lot of changes going on. It’s hard to show up and beat a team,” D’Angelo Russell said. “We were just going through that, as a team we know what that felt like that. Any time we got a little lead, we were trying to learn how to step on people’s throats. We’re trying to give our fans a taste of what next season is going to look like and what our approach is going to be.”

Sunday’s games provide an important reminder that though Minnesota (21-47) and Orlando (21-47) share the same record, they are not the same teams. The Magic looked like a team waiting for the season to end, while Minnesota appeared as though it was just getting started.

Minnesota put its foot on Orlando’s throat from the outset. The Timberwolves led by 11 less than seven minutes into the game. They won each of the first two quarters by 15 points apiece. The lead stretched to as large as 43 points.

Karl-Anthony Towns, who shared an emotional Mother’s Day moment pregame with his father, was fantastic, tallying 27 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks in just 28 minutes. Russell matched that scoring output, splashing five triples to go with eight assists and six rebounds.

As a team, the Wolves shot 36 percent from deep and 49 percent from the field. They turned 13 Magic turnovers into 20 points. Minnesota outrebounded Orlando 57-45. The Timberwolves delivered such a performance without Jaden McDaniels, who missed his second straight game while attending a funeral, and Juancho Hernangomez, who was out with a left quad contusion.

The starting lineup of Russell, Towns, Ricky Rubio, Jarred Vanderbilt and Anthony Edwards was hyper-effective for a second straight game, with every member of the starting lineup recording a plus-minus of plus-25 or better.

It’s easy to look in at Sunday’s game and see it as Orlando out-tanking Minnesota in the race for the best possible draft lottery odds. But while the Magic may be trying to lose, Minnesota is trying to build.

It’s easy to look in at Sunday’s game and see it as Orlando out-tanking Minnesota in the race for the best possible Draft lottery odds. But while the Magic may be trying to lose, Minnesota is trying to build.

“I think that we’re just doing a great job of continuously working hard and finding ways to be better as a team, and setting the standard and the foundation needed. I think that these guys have just been growing,” Towns said. “I think even though we’re at the end of the season, we know what’s at stake, we understand what the end is going to look like, regardless of how well we play right now, but it’s not about right now, it’s about the 82 next year we’ve got to get ready for.”

And it is. The ceiling of this team is still to be determined. How good will the Wolves be? We don’t know. But they are growing right now. That’s something. Finch thinks the team’s improved starts stem from the fact they have an expectation of winning.

You don’t build that type of mentality when you rest starters down the stretch run of the season and pile up losses.

“Winning is a lot more fun. So when winning is fun, everything is a lot easier to reinforce what you’ve been trying to sell because the guys can see it working, I think, a little bit,” Finch said. “They’re buying in. They’re doing things that make themselves and their teammates better. I think that’s it. It’s more enjoyable. It sounds kind of silly, but it’s a game these guys put their heart and soul in, their whole lives. And at some point it’s got to be fun and winning is the fun part.”

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