Toronto Raptors veterans DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry flew home by chartered flight late Wednesday night to play together for the Eastern Conference in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game back at their Air Canada Centre.
Timberwolves youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins will schlep their stuff on an early morning flight Thursday, bound for Friday’s preliminary Rising Stars Challenge there.
But for the final two-plus quarters of the Wolves’ 117-112 victory at Target Center, you couldn’t tell who’s headed for which game.
The Wolves headed into a week’s break by winning for the third time in four games, beating a Raptors team that had won 14 of its past 15 games and is second in the Eastern Conference only to Cleveland.
“It’s a good way to show how good we can be,” Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said after his team followed victories over the Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago in the last week by beating the East’s hottest team. “That team has been playing amazing the last month. It’s a good way to go on a break, showing what we’re capable to do.”
The Wolves surpassed last season’s victory total of 16 by winning for the 17th time in 54 games. They wiped away an 18-point, second-quarter deficit and produced their biggest comeback this season, two points better than in their season opener in Los Angeles against the Lakers.
They did so with Towns providing a 35-point, 11-rebound, three-block performance that left his coach and teammates searching for the right words of praise, and with Wiggins scoring half of his 26 points in the fourth quarter.
The Wolves had turned it around with a 25-11 run that started the second half. They changed the game by getting physical and by getting to the free-throw line 53 times.
Towns’ block of Cory Joseph’s driving layup with 20 seconds left saved the game.
“For the whole game, every minute Karl was out there,” Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said, talking about how the former University of Kentucky star impressed him. “Every night he does something that you just don’t realize he can do. As a coaching staff, we just made up our minds that we’re going to watch what he does and just keep encouraging him because we’re going to keep giving it to him.”
Mitchell introduced the starting lineup for which Wolves fans have been waiting — Zach LaVine alongside Ricky Rubio in the backcourt — after veteran Tayshaun Prince was given permission to attend former teammate Chauncey Billups’ jersey retirement ceremony in Detroit. With three 20-year-olds, a 25-year-old and a 26-year-old starting while four of their veterans didn’t play, the Wolves beat the Raptors, who had lost only once since Jan. 4.
Mitchell called that starting lineup “talented but young” and one that made many defensive mistakes in the first half that he can live with because they competed, played hard and moved the ball.
“We’re in the right direction,” Wiggins said. “We have all the pieces, all the talent. Now we need to put everything together.”
He and Towns, to name two, were a good place to start Wednesday.
“He keeps impressing us,” Rubio said about Towns. “He’s playing an amazing season. He shows us every night that he has something even better to show.”
Towns was asked afterward if he even surprises himself sometimes.
“I do surprise myself sometimes: missing two free throws, missing jump shots,” he said. “So I do surprise myself sometimes also.”