Timberwolves’ bench continues to roll in win over Denver

Timberwolves’ bench continues to roll in win over Denver
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Part of it has to do with the fact Denver has been down two of its three best players for much of the season in Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray, but the Nuggets’ bench has struggled mightily. So much so that when reigning MVP Nikola Jokic heads to the bench, all Denver fans are left to do is hold their collective breaths and hope the Nuggets can tread water until the big man returns.

That did not happen Tuesday night. Minnesota’s bench blitzed Denver in the second quarter to pave the way for the Wolves’ 130-115 blowout victory at Target Center. The reserves combined for 68 points.

There were times earlier this season where it would’ve been Minnesota’s reserves sinking the ship. The Timberwolves’ bench has been volatile. Naz Reid, Malik Beasley, Jaden McDaniels, they’ve all been up and down.

Jordan McLaughlin and Taurean Prince struggled so mightily earlier in the season that both at one point exited the rotation.

But that unit is starting to take shape and find its way. It looks like a cohesive group that wants to and will play the right way and is capable of not only maintaining leads, but extending them.

“It was fun to watch. They made all the right plays offensively, they really kind of guarded their tails off, in the first half in particular,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “Were really physical out there, even when they were undersized. I just thought they made the right play. As soon as there was traffic, they got off of it. They weren’t trying to be cute or anything like that, and the ball did all the work, and we threw in a bunch of shots.”

Prince was the star of the show. He finished with 23 points and nine rebounds while drilling six triples. He said the reserves are playing with a lot of confidence. All of them feel as though they’re the best players on the floor, and that they can start in the league.

“So, I think the fact that you have guys that feel highly about their game and actually put in the work on a daily basis. And then to see it all happen how it’s happening, it’s just a testament to the every day work that we consistently put in,” Prince said.

He noted the Wolves’ bench unit is structured to move the ball. Lately, without D’Angelo Russell available, Finch has turned to a bench unit that doesn’t feature a starter. That’s led to a pass-heavy, move-the-ball approach that’s allowing everyone to succeed and find their rhythm.

“They play quick, and they get out in transition and they really spread the floor,” Finch said. “It’s super hard to guard at times.”

So hard that the coach almost has no choice but to stick with the approach, even when Russell returns. It can be hard to allocate minutes with too many players in the rotation, but Finch did try to play 11 guys at the season’s outset.

“Played 13 tonight,” he joked.

Jaylen Nowell’s entrance into the unit has helped turned the tide. He finished with 10 points Tuesday. Malik Beasley could be what truly unlocks the reserves if he finds his way. He found his stroke in the fourth quarter to finish with four made 3-pointers. Reid added 12 points. McLaughlin’s resurgence looks as though it has earned him a spot back in the rotation.

Minnesota trailed by two early in the first quarter when Jokic went to the bench. But upon his exit, the Wolves scored 15 of the next 17 points, and they never looked back from there.

The reserves were the highlight in a game in which Karl-Anthony Towns and Jarred Vanderbilt were again great. They punished Denver (28-22) and its lack of rim protection to the tune of 42 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists between the two.

Yet it was the bench who took the game over, and could be the key for getting Minnesota (26-25) where it wants to go as the season rolls forward.

“We all play off of each other, so it’s pretty natural I would say,” Prince said. “It’s really nothing special we’re doing.”

That’s where many would beg to differ.

“As we’re going in, we’re all telling each other whether the first group is doing well or not as well, we always have to provide a spark. We always have an upside when we play together,” Reid said. “We know what we need to do when we go in. Definitely a lot of communication and a lot of excitement in that group.”

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