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Raphielle Johnson

Basketball Daily Dose

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Dose: Wolves Fire Thibodeau

Monday, January 7, 2019


Sunday’s seven-game slate featured some excellent performances, with players such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Kemba Walker, Nikola Vucevic and Russell Westbrook among those to put up solid stat lines. But the games were somewhat overshadowed by a coaching change, with the Timberwolves brass making the decision to move in another direction. 

 

Below is a look at Sunday’s important news, beginning with the end of the Tom Thibodeau era in Minneapolis. 

 

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Usually when a head coach is relieved of his duties the firing occurs after a string of losses. That was not the case in Minnesota Sunday evening, as Timberwolves president of basketball operations and head coach Tom Thibodeau was fired shortly after a 108-86 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. But while the timing of the move may have caught many by surprise, given everything that’s happened with the franchise this season it can be argued that the only “variable” in a changing of the guard was time. 

 

Before the season even began there was the Jimmy Butler trade demand, a saga that did not reach its conclusion until early November when the All-Star wing was sent to Philadelphia. And according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, “increased fan apathy” was a major factor in the franchise making the decision to move on from Thibodeau with an important season ticket renewal date looming on the horizon. As a result Thibs is out, with Ryan Saunders being named interim head coach for the remainder of the season. 

 

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The big news overshadowed what was one of Minnesota’s best performances of the season, with franchise cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins scoring 28 points apiece to lead the way. However, the way in which the two reached that point total did not line up. While Towns was consistent for much of the day Wiggins scored 25 of his 28 points in the first half, the most he’s scored in a half in his career. The 23-year old wing shot 9-of-23 from the field, 3-of-10 from three and 7-of-11 from the foul line Sunday, and he also tallied five rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot in 36 minutes. 

 

The first half offered a tease of what Wiggins is capable of, but he was unable to keep that going in the second stanza. And the lack of consistent production is something that’s held Wiggins back, something that will need to change in order for the Timberwolves to truly rely on him as a key figure in the franchise’s efforts to build a title contender. 

 

As for Towns he’s been really good post-Butler trade and on Sunday he produced his 26th double-double of the season, finishing with 28 points (11-of-20 FGs, 5-of-5 FTs), 18 rebounds, four blocked shots, three assists, two steals and one three-pointer in 35 minutes. Averaging 22.1 points per game for the season the 7-footer has scored 28 or more in six straight games, and over his last five Towns boasts averages of 29.4 points, 16.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 3.4 blocks, 1.2 steals and 1.6 three-pointers per night with shooting splits of 51.9/34.8/81/8. 

 

With Thibodeau out of the picture it’s up to Saunders to figure out how to maximize the talent on this roster, either to get back into the playoff picture or — if that fails — to set the franchise up for success in the 2019-20 season and beyond. How Saunders chooses to use Towns and Wiggins offensively — and how much his approach differs from that of Thibodeau — remains to be seen, and it will also impact the other players in the Timberwolves rotation. Players such as Dario Saric, Tyus Jones and Josh Okogie are worth keeping an eye on as Saunders begins his run as interim head coach. 

 

Kyle Lowry makes his return to Raptors lineup 

 

Prior to Saturday’s win over the Bucks in Milwaukee, there was some chatter that Kawhi Leonard would be available to play Sunday against the Pacers. Alas Leonard did not go, meaning that he has still yet to play in both ends of a back-to-back this season, but Toronto’s 121-105 win over Indiana was headlined by the return of point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry, who missed ten of the prior 11 games due to a back injury, played 32 minutes and finished with 12 points (4-of-10 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), eight assists, three rebounds, three steals, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers. 

 

Starting alongside Fred VanVleet, who accounted for 12 points (3-of-10 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs), eight assists, two rebounds and one three-pointer in 35 minutes, Lowry spent a decent amount of time playing off the ball Sunday night. So while the All-Star point guard took on a decent workload from a minutes standpoint, head coach Nick Nurse found a way to give Lowry a a slightly lighter workload within the game. That will be something to keep an eye on as Lowry works himself back into the swing of things, and he isn’t under a lot of pressure given the number of options on the Raptors roster. 

 

Eight players scored in double figures, with Norman Powell leading the way with 23 points (10-of-12 FGs, 3-of-3 3-pointers), two rebounds, one assists and one steal in 32 minutes off the bench. Powell, who played 15 minutes Saturday vs. Milwaukee, benefitted from Leonard’s absence and put forth his most productive outing of the season. Toronto is now 8-2 without Leonard this season, and the bench production is a big reason why. 

 

Domantas Sabonis tallies third double-double in four games

 

No Myles Turner (shoulder) meant a move into the starting lineup for Sabonis, who finished Sunday’s loss to the Raptors with 16 points (6-of-14 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs), 11 rebounds and six assists in 31 minutes. The 6’11 power forward has now posted a double-double in two straight and three of his last four games, and over the last five Sabonis is averaging 19.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per while shooting 59.7% from the field and 79.3% from the foul line. Sabonis is on 83% of Yahoo rosters currently, and that number should increase no matter how long Turner’s shoulder injury keeps him on the sideline. 

 

D’Angelo Russell continues to shine in Brooklyn 

 

Nets point guard D’Angelo Russell led the way in the team’s 117-100 win in Chicago Sunday afternoon, tallying 28 points (10-of-19 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), five assists, four rebounds, one steal, six 3-pointers and two turnovers in 33 minutes. Russell has now scored 20 points or more in four consecutive outings for the first time in his career, and during this period he’s averaging 26.5 points, 7.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 three-pointers per game while shooting 48.8% from the field. The Nets are back in action Monday night against the Celtics, and it should be noted that the team’s starting point guard has struggled on no days rest this season. 

 

In eight prior instances this season Russell’s averaging 13.4 points, 6.1 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting just 37.5% from the field and 35.4% from beyond the arc. This something DFS players should be mindful of when considering Russell for their Monday lineups. But given how well he’s playing it would not come as a surprise if Russell were to buck that trend. Also of note for the Nets was the play of reserves DeMarre Carroll (20 points, four rebounds, four assists, one steal, three 3-pointers) and Shabazz Napier (18 points, three rebounds, three assists, one steal, three 3-pointers), who combined score 38 of Brooklyn’s 52 bench points. 

 

Bobby Portis stands out in return to lineup 

 

Having been out of the lineup since mid-December due to an ankle injury, Portis was on a 20-minute limit Sunday. The power forward/center made the most of his time on the court, scoring 17 points (6-of-11 FGs, 2-of-4 FTs) with five rebounds and three 3-pointers (on four attempts). The minutes restriction may limit Portis’ fantasy value for now as head coach Jim Boylen looks to ease the third-year forward back into the rotation. That being said, once the restriction is gone grabbing the 6’11 Portis wouldn’t be a bad idea if he’s available. In six appearances off the bench he’s averaging 13.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, compared to averages of 10.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per contest in four starts (Portis is also averaging 2.0 assists and 1.0 blocks per game as a starter). Regardless of his role, Portis will find a way to contribute. 

 

Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram struggle in loss

 

On the other side of Sunday’s soap opera episode in Minnesota were the Los Angeles Lakers, who dropped to 1-5 without LeBron James (groin) in the 22-point loss. The starting five combined to score 34 points, with Brandon Ingram scoring 13 (5-of-16 FGs, 3-of-5 FTs) with five rebounds and one assist and Josh Hart tallying ten points (3-of-12 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), two rebounds, two assists, two steals and two 3-pointers. Also struggling in the defeat was Lonzo Ball, who missed all four of his shot attempts and finished the game with six rebounds, four assists and no points. 

 

Playing without James and Kyle Kuzma, who missed second straight game due to a lower back contusion, certainly isn’t easy. But Ball and Ingram, two players so many view as key players in the Lakers’ rebuild, haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity to be even more involved in the offense during this recent run of games. Following Sunday’s loss head coach Luke Walton said that “more passion” was needed from both, and they’ll have the opportunity to rise to that challenge Monday night in Dallas. 

 

Tobias Harris shakes off slow start, paces Clippers with 28 points

 

Clippers forward Tobias Harris entered Sunday’s game against the Magic ranked fifth in the NBA with 286 first quarter points. At the end of the first quarter Harris was stuck on that number, as he missed all six of his field goal attempts and went scoreless. The All-Star candidate shook off the cold start however, finishing the Clippers’ 106-96 win with a game-high 28 points (10-of-21 FGs, 7-of-8 FTs) to go along with nine rebounds, two assists, one steal, one blocked shot and one three-pointer in 36 minutes. Harris led four double-digit scorers for the home team, with Lou Williams adding 17 points, four rebounds and four assists off the bench and Avery Bradley and Danilo Gallinari tallying 13 apiece. 

 

Boasting shooting splits of 50.4/42.5/88.8 on the season as a whole, Harris is a serious threat to put up a 50/40/90 this season. He hasn’t shot the ball as well of late, making 45.6% of his field goal and 38.5% of his three-point attempts over the last five, but that should not be a major concern given Harris’ production throughout the season. 

 


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Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.
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