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New-look Timberwolves win home opener

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MINNEAPOLIS- A new era of basketball for the Minnesota Timberwolves began with a bang.

In a newly-renovated Target Center, the Timberwolves defeated the Utah Jazz 100-97 in a defensive battle.

There were many storylines for this intense home opener, but perhaps the biggest one was the return of Ricky Rubio to Target Center.

Before being traded to the Utah Jazz this off-season,  Rubio played six seasons for the Timberwolves, and was a fan favorite for his supernatural passing, his fun personality, and his feisty competitiveness.

Rubio is one of the greatest Timberwolves of all time, ranking first in franchise history in assists per game and steals per game. Rubio received a loud standing ovation from Timberwolves fans when he was introduced in the Jazz’s starting lineup.

The Timberwolves’ busy offseason included the trade for Chicago star, Jimmy Butler, and the free agent additions of Jeff Teague (Rubio’s replacement), Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford.

Jimmy Butler wasted no time in showing his intensity, when he and Rubio got in each other’s face at the end of the third quarter. Target Center cheered for Butler when he motioned to the crowd to get up.

However, not everyone got up in support for Butler, perhaps because they were cheering for Rubio, who had given his heart and soul to Timberwolves basketball for 6 seasons. Regardless, the moment symbolized that a new era of basketball had begun, Butler as the new leader, Rubio no longer a part of it.

The new-look Timberwolves’ offense started very slowly on Friday night, only scoring 19 points in the first quarter, but the defense was able to hold Utah to 16 points.

Throughout the night, the Wolves’ offense looked very disjointed. The starters did not seem to have an understanding of each other yet, and the movement of the offense seemed very stagnant.

On the night, Andrew Wiggins had 21 points (7-19 FG), Karl-Anthony Towns had 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Butler had 13 points (5-14 FG). Jeff Teague finished with 10 points on 3-10 shooting, and got thoroughly outplayed by Rubio (19 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds).

Utah deserves credit for stingy defense. The addition of Rubio, one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA, only helps the 3rd rated defense from last year.

On the flip side, the Wolves’ defense showed improvement from a season ago, when they ranked 26 in the NBA in defensive rating. Jimmy Butler showed why he is an elite defender in the NBA with excellent perimeter defense. Wiggins showed flashes of defensive improvement, but still needs to show more consistency. However, Towns’s team defense still needs significant improvement, and his rotations still seem very slow.

Perhaps the brightest part of the night was the Timberwolves’ bench production. Last year, the Timberwolves’ bench was a glaring weakness of the team, but the addition of Jamal Crawford seems to have bolstered the bench. Crawford scored all 17 of his points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 27 seconds left. Nemanja Bjelica was also a bright spot, scoring 10 points (4-5 FG), and a game-high +14 while he was on the floor.

It will take time for the new players to gel, but Friday night was a step in the right direction for the Timberwolves. It was not pretty, but the Timberwolves won, and wins have been sparse for Minnesota basketball throughout the past 13 years.

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New-look Timberwolves win home opener