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Starting lineup struggles again as Timberwolves fall to .500 with loss in Phoenix

Minnesota's reserves have been most consistent group on the court this season

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker moves the ball against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (left) and center Karl-Anthony Towns (right) Nov. 1, 2022, at Footprint Center in Phoenix.
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker moves the ball against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (left) and center Karl-Anthony Towns (right) Nov. 1, 2022, at Footprint Center in Phoenix.
Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves’ starters remain out of touch.

In consecutive games now, some lineup combination that largely featured reserves chipped away at an opponent’s advantage to pull Minnesota in tight in the fourth quarter. Each time, coach Chris Finch re-inserted the starters and watched the momentum shift back to the opponent. On Sunday it was in San Antonio, and on Tuesday it was in Phoenix, a late 116-107 loss to the Suns.

Eight games in, Minnesota’s starting five appears to be the team’s Achilles’ heel. On Tuesday, Minnesota’s starting five turned a two-point deficit into an eight-point hole in the blink of an eye, shifting all momentum back in Phoenix’s favor.

The combination of D’Angelo Russell, Jaden McDaniels, Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert simply hasn’t clicked. And the concerns are likely growing.

“There hasn’t really been a whole lot of growth with that unit just yet,” Finch said. “So, yeah, just working on it, keep focusing on it.”

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Finch reshuffled the deck to get reserves like Jaylen Nowell and Taurean Prince back into the game, but by then it was too late. The head coach noted that Naz Reid — who finished with 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting — did a “great job,” but that Towns deserves every opportunity to close games.

He didn’t mention any of the other starters when discussing his decision-making process.

“I don’t know who specifically, which guys you’re talking about, but at that moment in time we’re down six (points), we call time out, we run a play. I thought the play was open,” Finch said. “I’m not going to sit here and second-guess every substitution I make in the last five minutes of the game.”

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Finch is currently in a bit of a Catch 22. No coach would want to sit members of the team’s supposed “core” fewer than 10 games into the season. But the core is not putting the Timberwolves in the best position to win. Every starter for the Timberwolves (4-4) posted plus-minus numbers of negative double-digits on Tuesday.

Edwards marveled at the numbers during his post-game press conference.

“That’s crazy. And our bench was plus, plus, plus,” Edwards said as he scoured the box score. “From the looks of it, it’s telling me that when we’re in the game, we’re losing. And when (the reserves are) in the game, we’ve got a better chance of winning.”

That’s been the case all season. Minnesota’s individual net rating leaders are, in order: Jordan McLaughlin, Naz Reid, Jaylen Nowell, Taurean Prince and Kyle Anderson — reserve, reserve, reserve, reserve and reserve.

“They’re sharing the ball. They don’t care who scores. That’s the biggest thing. They don’t care who score,” Edwards said. “They all want to see each other shine in that second group.”

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Meanwhile, Edwards is the only starter with a positive net rating through eight games. For the season, Minnesota’s starting lineup is being outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions, the same team net rating posted by Orlando (1-7).

“I don’t like the sound of that, so we’re going to figure it out,” Edwards said. “Yeah, that’s crazy.”

For much of the night Tuesday, Phoenix (6-1) dominated Minnesota’s big-ball lineup by stretching Minnesota out with wings who could cut and shoot. And the Timberwolves haven’t proven themselves capable of punishing small opposing lineups on the offensive end.

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Related Topics: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
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