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Monday’s win shows why Wolves believe they’re ‘a lot better’ this season

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Robert Covington (33) and center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) celebrate after winning their game against Houston Rockets at Target Center Monday, Dec. 3. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- After 24 minutes of humiliation from the Houston Rockets on Monday, Dec. 3, the Minnesota Timberwolves hashed out their problems in the locker room -- before coach Tom Thibodeau had even entered the room.

“It felt good,” veteran wing Taj Gibson said.

It worked, too.

The Timberwolves responded in the second half by suffocating one of the league’s premier offenses. Houston scored just 29 second-half points as Minnesota flipped a 14-point halftime deficit into a 12-point victory.

“Not only did we come here and talk about it,” Karl-Anthony Towns said afterward, “we came out and did it.”

That first half was all too familiar for Minnesota. Houston was scoring with ease, much like they did at numerous points of last spring’s playoff series between the teams. Gibson said the Rockets were so comfortable some were laughing.

“We’ve seen that team a lot of times, and you get frustrated at times,” Gibson said. “That’s a talented team, and it was just (ticking) us off.”

Gibson remind teammates about that playoff series and how Houston took it to Minnesota in a 4-1 series win.

“We couldn’t forget that,” he said.

They didn’t. Swingman Andrew Wiggins noted how when a team beats you repeatedly, it grows more and more confident. Every time that team plays you, he said, it believes it will win. Eventually, that has to change.

“We had to show them that we can play, too, and it’s a whole different team than last year,” Wiggins said. “We’re a lot better.”

That’s a big statement considering last year’s team snapped a 14-year playoff drought, and this year’s team will have a tough time getting back to the postseason. But players clearly believe it to be true. The Wolves are certainly better on the defensive end; Minnesota has held four of its past five opponents under 97 points.

“I’m not going to lie to you, I didn’t think we’d ever be as good as we’ve been lately on the defensive end,” point guard Jeff Teague said.

Teague said the Wolves are playing with energy and pride on the defensive end. More important, he said they’re all “on a string,” moving with one another on that end of the floor.

“I think we’re growing,” Teague said. “I think we’re getting better every day. I think we just believe in one another. I think we know where everybody’s going to be on the floor and where their spots are and what they’re going to do. I think we’re just getting comfortable.”

That comfort has led to candor. Wiggins said it should be the players addressing what needs to change on the floor and not coaches.

“We’re the ones out there,” he said. “We’re not just seeing what’s on the floor, we’re doing, playing. So, us conversing in the locker room and telling each other what we see out there and what we can do better, it goes a long way.”

Those conversations require everyone to speak their minds. Wiggins said everyone is “just more open” right now. If players make a mistake, he said, they’re owning up to it and not making the same mistake again.

Monday’s halftime players’ meeting was the first Gibson can remember the Wolves having “in a long while.” Robert Covington said accountability has been the team’s identity since he and Dario Saric were acquired for Jimmy Butler on Nov. 10.

Since then, the Wolves are 8-3.

“The way guys are communicating with each other without stepping on each other’s toes, everybody is real responsive and it shows growth,” Gibson said. “Guys are speaking their minds in a positive way, not speaking their minds in a negative fashion at all.

“Everybody wants to do something positive, everybody is still learning, but we’re growing as a team. There’s nothing out of the ordinary … negativity-wise. Always positive, always preaching good things. We’re a positive team.”

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