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Yes, the Timberwolves foul a lot. It’s on them to do something about it

Minnesota sends opponents to the free-throw line more than any other team in the NBA

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns reacts after recording a foul against the Memphis Grizzlies in the fourth quarter Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, at Target Center in Minneapolis.
David Berding / USA Today Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- You could see it coming. Memphis and Philadelphia are two of the best teams in the NBA at getting to the free-throw line — the Grizzlies with their size and physicality, the 76ers with much of the same, but with a little more tact to top it off.

And then there are the Minnesota Timberwolves, who send opponents to the free-throw line more than any other team in the NBA. The results over the first two games out of the all-star break were as you’d expect.

Memphis shot 40 free-throws Thursday — which Minnesota won in spite of — while Philadelphia had 36 shots from the charity stripe Friday. Those are gaudy numbers, and left the Timberwolves and all of Target Center frustrated for much of the evening.

After Thursday’s win over Memphis, Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said “It was hard, I felt for our guys out there. A lot of bodies flying around.”

After Friday’s loss to Philadelphia: “I mean, listen, what do you want me to say? You watched it, as well.”

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Yes, everyone did. And most of the time, the Wolves were called for wrestling Joel Embiid to the floor. What else are the officials to do but blow the whistle? Sure, there is the occasional call where Minnesota might get the short end of the stick. But for the most part, the problem is the Timberwolves demonstrate poor technique in tight situations, which leads to obvious calls.

“What’s crazy is we know that’s what (the 76ers) want (at the free-throw line) and we try not to, and they still find a way to get it,” D’Angelo Russell said. “I feel that’s more crazy than anything. It just comes back to being disciplined. That’s what we’re lacking right now on the defensive end.”

The Timberwolves allow opponents to shoot 25.4 free-throws a game, the most in the NBA. Detroit allows the second most at 24. Houston allows the third most. Detroit and Houston are two of the worst teams in the NBA. Minnesota is the only team in the bottom seven in the league in free-throws allowed with an above-.500 record.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Patrick Beverley (22) adds to the conversation between Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers and referee Jacyn Goble in the second quarter Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, at Target Center.
Bruce Kluckhohn / USA Today Sports

It’s difficult to sustain good defense when you’re giving away free points on a nightly basis. Finch addresses the issue with his team on a daily basis.

But it’s not always clear the message is getting through. Russell noted the team’s lack of discipline as an issue, but there still does seem to be a lot of finger pointing, from the coach on down, at the officials.

Karl-Anthony Towns thought because he made his third all-star team and won the 3-point contest, he would get more “respect” from the officials, as if that’s the reason he is called for fouls, and seemed surprised when he continued to be called for fouls after the break.

“You made your third all-star, the league has made you noticed, you win the 3-point contest. You get home, (you think) things will be a little different than you’re used to. You’ll have gotten that change,” Towns said. “But it hasn’t came, and it won’t. Accept it. It’s cool. I think that for me, (Thursday and Friday) … talking to myself, it’s a personal realization that it ain’t going to (change).”

Towns said knowing that’s the case, he simply needs to be better. That should be everyone’s approach in Minnesota. The Wolves themselves attempt the ninth-most free-throws in the NBA (22.1). The likelihood that every official in the NBA has teamed up to collaborate against them is slim.

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The odds Minnesota simply has a bunch of young, inexperienced players who have yet to master the art of properly defending without fouling are much greater.

Once that adjustment is made, perhaps the Wolves can make yet another defensive jump.

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