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Wolves coach Chris Finch just received a mandate: produce or don’t play. Will he use it?

Subs have been stepping up for injured starters -- some doing quite well.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch talks with forward Anthony Edwards in the first quarter Monday night, Jan. 2, 2023, against the Denver Nuggets at Target Center.
Bruce Kluckhohn / USA Today Sports
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ST. PAUL -- There was no secret as to the formula the Minnesota Timberwolves used Monday night at Target Center to dispatch the Denver Nuggets, the current leader in the NBA’s competitive Western Conference. Hustle, grit, determination and a team-first mentality.

None of those described Minnesota’s play through the first 37 games of a disappointing season to date, so Monday was a refreshing reminder that the Timberwolves (17-21) are indeed capable of putting forth that type of effort when they feel like it.

“Just give an effort. You know, we cared a lot, we rebounded, guys made second, third, fourth efforts, and, you know, it worked out well. On offense we shared it, played well together, guys knocked down shots. It worked out well for us,” Wolves forward Kyle Anderson said. “Came out with a sense of urgency. We had more than them. Everybody was locked in. That’s the way we gotta play.”

Because those are the types of performances that win NBA games, regardless of a team’s talent level. Minnesota was far more talented than the Detroit team it played Saturday night, yet suffered one of its most disappointing losses of the season. Then the ultra-depleted Wolves took it to a healthy Nuggets team Monday. Talent will ultimately win out during the most critical junctures of the NBA postseason, but approach goes a long way on a night-to-night basis during the regular season.

You can win with the likes of Matt Ryan, Nathan Knight and Luka Garza playing legitimate roles.

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“We desperately needed a win here, regardless of who we had playing or who we were playing. It was a total team win. Everybody who came in contributed, executed the game plan to a high level,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “Played with toughness, played together. It was really fun to watch.”

Which is the opposite of the eye sore Minnesota has been on far too many nights this season. Fans have voiced their displeasure over the number of games in which the Timberwolves are simply getting outworked up and down the floor. The lack of care finally came to a head after the loss to the Pistons, when multiple players addressed the topic along with Finch.

It was during that postgame availability that the coach said he may need to “think differently about who plays when and how.”

“Maybe I’ve just got to shuffle it up totally different,” said Finch, while noting he had to find someone willing to grab a rebound.

Yet options appeared limited. The Timberwolves have been without Taurean Prince, Jordan McLaughlin and Karl-Anthony Towns — three rotation players — for weeks now. At some point, you kind of have who you have. Reaching to the very end of the bench would reek of desperation while having a low probability of success, not exactly the move you want to make while trying to snap a long losing skid.

But Finch was all but forced into that position Monday, when Naz Reid, D’Angelo Russell and Bryn Forbes were all late scratches from the lineup. Suddenly, the likes of Garza and Knight were must plays, and two-way contract player Matt Ryan was set for a larger role. Others like Austin Rivers and Jaylen Nowell were locked into 30-plus minutes. And they all stepped up and played well. Even more importantly for this team right now, they played hard.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jaylen Nowell (4), center Luka Garza (55), forward Nathan Knight (13) and guard Austin Rivers (25) gather together as they played the Denver Nuggets on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Minneapolis.
Bruce Kluckhohn / USA Today Sports

Their performances added validity to the idea that an NBA team truly is 17 players deep. Bench options are not limited on any given night. If someone isn’t going to guard, rebound or run back, he can be replaced. D’Angelo Russell spoke of that possibility after Minnesota beat Chicago on Dec. 18, his first game back after a two-game absence.

“It’s opportunity, simple as that. It could be the last guy and he could get thrown in there because the second guy is not playing tonight, and (he takes) advantage and never looks back. It’s just that easy, and our league is that good and guys are that good,” Russell said. “You asked me, is it a good problem to have that many guys? As a player, hell no. Because if I go out, the next guy might steal my whole little shine. So you want to stay on the floor and be available for the group. I didn’t want to miss any games, because I know guys like Jaylen Nowell and Austin Rivers, those guys are hungry.”

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Well, now Russell missed another game, sitting Monday because of illness, and a couple guys stepped up and the Timberwolves delivered their best performance in recent memory. There are lingering questions as to whether an NBA team can establish a true meritocracy given the salaries and power structure within an NBA roster.

MORE MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES COVERAGE:
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Edwards is currently the league’s No. 4 overall scorer (1,346 points).
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Though some people have floated Reid’s name with the trade deadline looming next week, there’s absolutely no way the Timberwolves can trade him.
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Naz Reid had 24 points, 13 rebounds starting in place of the injured Rudy Gobert.
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They need to find some solutions because Golden State is coming to town Wednesday.
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The loss came after defeating the Kings at home on Saturday
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Minnesota has bested 3 of the top 4 teams in the West to kick off what was supposed to be a brutal run of 11 games
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Minnesota improved its record to 11-4 in January, including winning its last 3 games
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‘Making the right play,’ Edwards said, is working for teammates and the young guard himself
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Kyle Anderson stepped up again to provide a veteran presence, keeping the Grizzlies from mounting a comeback
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A strong month of January has pushed Minnesota back toward the middle of the Wester Conference race

But Monday’s performance certainly gave Finch the license to make production-based decisions in the best interest of Minnesota re-establishing the winning standard of play displayed Monday as the Timberwolves’ norm.

“No doubt, 100 percent. This is it,” Finch said. “When you see guys go out and contribute and everyone compete, it leaves us with some tough choices, but it’s what the team will want. They’ll want to see that effort and that performance and that production being rewarded.”

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This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
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