Surging Spurs face improving Timberwolves

Sports Xchange

November 15, 2017 at 3:06 am.

MINNEAPOLIS — A season-high, four-game losing streak is a faint memory for the San Antonio Spurs as they head to Minnesota on Wednesday for the second game of a back-to-back situation.

The Timberwolves have become good at recovery as well.

Wednesday’s game in Minnesota features two teams surging in the Western Conference. San Antonio has won five of its past six games after a 97-91 win in Dallas on Tuesday. The Wolves came back from a poor showing in Phoenix on Saturday to beat Utah on the road 109-98 on Monday.

With the Spurs playing without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker all season, LaMarcus Aldridge has led San Antonio. The 6-foot-11 forward scored a season-high 32 points in Tuesday’s win.

“His comfort level, his confidence is good. He’s in a good spot right now,” point guard Patty Mills said of Aldridge. “We try to let him do his thing and, as a team, mold around him.”

Mills added his own season high in Tuesday’s win with 19 points as San Antonio (9-5) works through the absence of Parker with Mills and Dejounte Murray. Parker is with the team but hasn’t been able to play a game as he tries to return from left quadriceps tendon surgery.

Guard Danny Green did return Tuesday night after missing one game with a hamstring injury.

Leonard has missed the entire season because of right quadriceps tendinopathy, but is getting closer to a return. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Tuesday that Leonard will be back “sooner rather than later,” but then added, “What the hell does that mean?” to leave the all-star’s status in the dark.

Without the two veterans, Aldridge has picked up the slack, averaging 22.5 points per game, his highest in three seasons in San Antonio.

“Everything is good. I am definitely more confident. I’m playing my game more this year,” Aldridge said. “Pop has definitely tweaked some things so I can be myself out there more, be more confident, and it’s working out for us.”

Aldridge has typically enjoyed playing Minnesota too. He’s averaged 18.9 points and 7.9 rebounds in 41 career games against the Wolves.

Of course, this isn’t the same type of Minnesota squad Aldridge has faced so often through the years. The Timberwolves (8-5) appear primed to end a 13-year playoff drought after dramatic offseason changes.

One constant the past few seasons has been young center Karl-Anthony Towns, who continues his development into one of the league’s best big men.

Towns had team highs of 24 points and 13 rebounds in Monday’s win against Utah. He became the second player in NBA history, after Dwight Howard, to score 3,000 points and grab 2,000 rebounds before his 22nd birthday, which is Wednesday.

“I take what the defense gives me,” Towns said. “We have sets and our sets have me in different spots and I just try to be as efficient as possible.”

With Towns and Andrew Wiggins taking most of the scoring load, newcomers Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford have supplied across-the-board production and an offensive spark when needed.

Minnesota is off to the second-best start in team history and has scored more than 100 points for a team-record 12 straight games.

Towns, Butler and Gibson are all coming off double-doubles. Butler had 21 points and 10 assists on Monday, while Gibson notched his fourth straight double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

“He’s just a pro’s pro,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said of Gibson. “He sets great screens, he goes hard to the basket, puts great pressure on the rim, goes to the offensive boards hard, can play back to the basket. … It’s just the activity level that he brings.”

Gibson and the newcomers have provided the veteran presence and stabilizing attitude for what’s been a young team. Minnesota also surged after back-to-back disappointing losses earlier this season without Butler.

San Antonio beat the Wolves 107-99 at home in the season-opener for both teams.

Minnesota forward Gorgui Dieng missed Monday’s game with a finger injury.




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