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Last Shots: On travel, an improved defense, the bench unit, and Andrew Wiggins

CLEVELAND – Twenty-four quick thoughts for Robert Covington’s season-high 24 points in Minnesota’s 102-95 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night.

1. On the surface and in the box score this may look like a boring November win against a bad team on the road. In the locker room, however, it may have meant more than just that.

2. Derrick Rose was the first player available to the media following the win over the Cavaliers, and one of the first things he mentioned was the fatigue that he was feeling. Sure, Rose’s body has been through more than most, and he may feel more tired than most on average nights. With multiple knee surgeries throughout his career that would certainly be understandable.

3. He wasn’t talking about that, though. Rose brought up the fact that this team has done nothing but travel over the past few days. He had a point, too.

4. The Wolves went from Brooklyn, back to Minneapolis, and then to Cleveland in a four-day period. For those counting at home that’s 3280 miles in the air. While the types of flights that NBA players are on aren’t exactly that of the average person, that’s quite a bit of travel in a few short days and can be even worsened with paired with a rare afternoon game and bouncing back and forth between two time zones.

5. “Tonight was a grind game,” Rose said. “We came out with energy at first and it was one of them games. Tonight felt like a back-to-back-to-back. Having to travel on your day off and play the next day is kind of tough but that’s why we’re here and why we get paid what we get paid.”

6. All of that adds up. With Cleveland playing well as of late – beating both Philadelphia and Houston this past weekend – this certainly could have been a trap game for the Wolves. Instead, Minnesota was able to collect its second win on the road of the season and inch closer to .500 on the season. The Wolves haven’t been .500 since Rose’s 50-point outburst on Halloween against the Utah Jazz. For this team to have gone through the entire Jimmy Butler situation, changing rotations and personnel on the fly, and still finding a way to win is impressive.

7. How the Wolves are winning continues to be impressive, considering how the season started off. Minnesota held one team below 110 points from the beginning of the season until Butler was traded. The Wolves then allowed the Brooklyn Nets to score 113 points in a 120-113 victory in their first game that Butler wasn’t on the roster for, although neither Covington nor Dario Šarić played.

8. Since Covington and Šarić stepped on the floor, the Wolves have been the one of the best teams in the NBA defensively. They haven’t given up more than 103 points in any of the eight games played since activating those two. The defensive rating sat at 99.9 prior to the game against Cleveland, and they turned in a defensive rating of 100.5 against the Cavaliers. They’ve been that good at that end of the floor.

9. Covington continues to be everything, and more than the Wolves could have expected on the floor since he was acquired. He had the poor shooting performance against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday at home, finishing 1-for-18 from the floor, but rebounded with his best game of the season for Minnesota.

10. On Monday night in Cleveland he finished with a season-high 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting including a 4-of-7 mark behind the arc. He also added a pair of steals and two blocks in the win. Covington makes this team go defensively. He’s a first-team All-Defensive team for a reason, and his defensive strengths fit in perfectly.

11. “He’s one of the best defenders in the world for a reason,” Karl-Anthony Towns said after the game. “There’s a reason why he’s first-team all-defense. He comes in and he brings that energy. With him doing that it makes all of us raise our standards on defense to try and match him.”

12. Trying to match what Covington does is tough, and the Wolves don’t have anyone that can realistically do that, but the effort to match it means something. On Monday night Minnesota forced 17 turnovers from the Cavaliers, and that matters.

13. At the beginning of the game the Wolves did lack a bit of energy, but Jeff Teague was a bright spot early on. He had 10 points in the first quarter on 5-of-7 shooting while adding in a steal and a block. It seemed as if Cleveland’s Collin Sexton was a mismatch for him and almost as if he took it among himself to attack the rookie on the offensive end.

14. The Wolves needed it to help dig out of an early hole and fatigue. The problem with it was that it disappeared. Teague added three more points in the game, all on free throws, and was largely invisible after the opening period. He finished with a minus-5 while on the court, after turning in a plus-5 in the first quarter alone.

15. Rose, seemingly as always this year, was there to pick things up. Rose was once again a huge reason as to why the Wolves earned this victory. He closed the game out on the floor for the Wolves, which meant someone else had to sit the fourth quarter. That someone else was Andrew Wiggins. The player on a maximum contract sat on the bench while the player on a veteran’s minimum contract helped pull the team to a win with 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter.

16. That’s not something seen regularly in the NBA, and coach Tom Thibodeau certainly deserves credit for making the decision to ride Rose down the stretch. Thibodeau is often criticized for not making rotational adjustments, and rightfully so, but this move was the correct one.

17. Wiggins has been struggling as of late. He didn’t make a single shot in the win on Saturday and finished with 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting Monday. He’s in a bit of a shooting slump right now to say the least. He’s going to try and shoot his way out of it, as all scorers do, but there’s no doubt that’s what’s going on.

18. “Wig will be out there most of the time,” Thibodeau said. “It’s just they were playing zone and I wanted more dribble penetration and so I actually was thinking about putting him in at the 4, but it was just the way the game was unfolding. Wig will finish most games.”

19. While Thibodeau didn’t say that this was because Wiggins was struggling directly, there’s no question that he would have been on the floor had he been playing well Monday, or as of late.

20. It won’t be often, one would guess, that Wiggins isn’t involved in late game execution, but at least for one night Thibodeau was right in making this move.

21. Outside of Covington, the biggest reason the Wolves won on Monday was the play of the unit that begins the second and fourth quarters. That’s comprised of Rose, Šarić, Covington, Gorgui Dieng, and Tyus Jones.

22. Of those five, Dieng, Jones, and Šarić played almost exclusively with that group, and they all finished with a rating of plus-12 or better. It’s a group that has worked very well together lately, and something that the Wolves didn’t have prior to the trade a few weeks ago.

23. “It’s been very fun,” Rose said of being on the unit. “Guys come in playing very hard following behind what the starting unit is doing. They’re just bringing that extra energy. Guys come in and they’re putting it all on the court. That’s what’s allowing us to be really, like you said, triumphant lately. They keep bringing that energy, bringing that same thing we can turn this thing around real fast.”

24. The Wolves get back in action with their first opportunity to move back to .500 since Nov. 4 on Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs at Target Center. Talk to you then.





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Previous Story Last Shots: On the third quarter problem, the bench, Paul Millsap, and KAT’s dunk Next Story Grading the Wolves on the first quarter of the season