The Minnesota Timberwolves played like their hair was on fire in Wednesday’s season opener. They flew around the court, with players almost trying to one-up one another by making the next great steal, block or close out.
The up-tempo pace, which accentuates the roster’s skill set, was electric. The energy, both on the court and on the bench, was palpable.
It was all a big reason Minnesota routed lowly Houston to open the NBA season at Target Center. Yes, it’s to be expected that a team with playoff aspirations beats a team with aspirations of winning the draft lottery, but the way with which the Timberwolves manhandled the Rockets for 48 straight minutes was impressive and a course correction from past campaigns.
But the reality is that was only one game. Consistency and culture isn’t established over 48 minutes, but rather 82 games. That’s been a major issue for Minnesota in recent years.
The Timberwolves were 3-0 to start the 2019-20 season and 2-0 to open last season. Neither of those seasons ended well. Of course, Karl-Anthony Towns went down with injury early in both of those seasons. But Minnesota also has struggled to maintain the level of play needed to contend at a high level on a nightly basis.
Wednesday’s performance was encouraging in that Minnesota exemplified everything it had preached and practiced throughout training camp and the exhibition slate.
That isn’t always the case.
“The same thing we’ve been doing in the preseason, it has to translate. Just because it translated from practice to preseason, in my experience it doesn’t mean anything. It has to translate in the regular season,” Towns said. “To have a game like this, first game of the year, obviously nerves are high, everyone’s kind of on a high because it’s the first game, but to go out there and have the discipline to play the defense we’re supposed to be playing, it speaks volumes about our coaching staff installing it, making sure that we understand the importance of it, and, too, the players in the locker room, at the end of the day we have to be the ones to do it. Those guys in the locker room got it done.”
They got it done in Game 1. That’s when everything you’ve worked on and emphasized is freshest in your minds. Will that hold true this weekend? Can Minnesota do it again against the lowly, Zion Williamson-less New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday, and then again against the same opponent Monday?
Can the Timberwolves handle small measures of success in a way they often failed to last year, and build upon what they did well rather than resting on their laurels and suffering regression? Can they bring the same energy three or four times a week, even on consecutive nights? Even when more formidable opponents are offering higher levels of pushback?
That’s what the good teams do. And if Minnesota wants to be considered as a member of that group — as ithas maintained throughout training camp — it will do the same.
“One game at a time. I think that’s our mentality,” guard D’Angelo Russell said Wednesday. “We did our thing on this one. It was fun. It was exciting. But I think our mentality has to be so what? What’s next? Move on to the next one.”