Saturday, September 23, 2023

NBA Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves (11-11) at Brooklyn Nets (15-6)

With about two minutes left in the game on Wednesday, Karl Anthony-Towns finished off a dunk and landed hard on his back.

The Timberwolves exhaled afterwards when X-rays were negative on his lower back, and Towns hopes to suit up Friday night when Minnesota visits the Brooklyn Nets.

Towns scored 34 points before exiting with 2:16 remaining following his dunk, but after a 115-107 loss in Washington, he said he was feeling alright — much to the relief of the Timberwolves, who are 8-4 in their past 12 games following a six-game skid Oct. 30-Nov. 10.

“I feel better than I thought I was going to feel,” Towns said. “I was in extreme pain for sure.”

Towns will make the first of two trips to his native New York metropolitan area averaging 24 points and nine rebounds. The New Jersey native also is shooting 50.8 percent from the field and a career-best 44.2 percent from 3-point range.

During Minnesota’s 12-game turnaround, he has three 30-point games, five double-doubles and eight games shooting at least 50 percent for a team who has scored at least 100 points in nine straight.

Besides hoping Towns will suit up, the Wolves would be helped if Anthony Edwards is past his flu-like symptoms. Edwards was on Wednesday’s injury report but scored 25 points on a night when former Net D’Angelo Russell was held to 10 and shot 3-of-18, including 1-of-12 from 3-point range.

Whoever is out there, the Wolves hope to protect the paint better after allowing 68 points in the paint, including 18 dunks.

“Just don’t think we played with enough effort,” Towns said. “I think we came in a little slow. I think we had a bunch of things that were going on, but no excuses.”

On Friday, increasing the effort means trying to find ways to contain James Harden and Kevin Durant, who combined for 61 points in Brooklyn’s dramatic 112-110 home victory over the New York Knicks on Tuesday.

Harden scored 28 of his 34 points in the first half and shot 11 of 20 from the field to go along with 10 rebounds and eight assists. Harden’s third 30-point showing raised his scoring average to 21 points per game and came on the heels of a 4-of-15 showing in a triple-double during Saturday’s 113-107 home loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Durant shot 9 of 23 but wound up with 27 points and made the game-winning pass to James Johnson, whose two free throws with two seconds left clinched the win. Durant also played 40 minutes, marking the first time he played at least 40 minutes in consecutive regular-season games as a Net.

“I enjoy playing,” Durant said. “I want to play for 48 minutes. That’s just what it is.”

The Nets head into a back-to-back home set with Minnesota and Chicago with 13 wins in their past 16 games and are playing Durant heavy minutes because of a sudden depth issue.

On Tuesday, the Nets played 10 players, but Cam Thomas was the lone reserve to play at least 20 minutes as Joe Harris is out indefinitely with an ankle injury and Blake Griffin is out of the rotation, having lost his starting center spot to LaMarcus Aldridge.

“It’s not ideal to have him have such a burden,” coach Steve Nash said. “But I don’t know what options we have other than to play him less and lose more. He’s a great player, and we’re down a great player and a really good player and a few others.”

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