Towns, surging Timberwolves visit Nets
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On June 25, 2015, Karl Anthony-Towns and Jahlil Okafor sported suits and hats of their respect new teams -- the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers.
They were first-round picks and trusted with being significant components of rebuilding efforts.
While Towns is among the key figures for a retooled team in Minnesota, Okafor is in a state of flux after being obtained by the Brooklyn Nets last month.
Okafor is expected to make his home debut for the Nets on Wednesday night against Towns and Timberwolves at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Okafor's minutes will not as extensive as the 35.6 minutes per game Towns plays, but the former third overall pick will see some time in front of the home crowd.
"He's been doing a phenomenal job getting ready physically with our assistant coaches, learning what we're doing," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told reporters before Monday's game against the Orlando Magic. "So collectively we feel that he's ready to get some minutes."
Since being obtained along with Nik Stauskas for Trevor Booker, Okafor's only action was a 22-minute outing when he scored 10 points in a blowout loss at Toronto on Dec. 15. Before joining the Nets, he only played in two games this season, which is among the reasons his minutes will be built up gradually.
"It was more than just being fit enough," Okafor told reporters. "I think it was just being in a new environment and learning the system. So, I'm looking forward to playing on Wednesday."
Wednesday will mark the fifth time Okafor and Towns will face each other. The last time they played against each other was exactly a year ago, when Okafor played 10 minutes and Towns scored 23 points in 37 minutes in a 93-91 victory by Philadelphia.
Towns averages 20.2 points and 11.6 rebounds on 53.2 percent shooting and 40.6 percent from 3-point range. He posted his 11th double-double in the last 13 games by getting 16 points and 13 rebounds in Monday's 114-96 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Timberwolves (24-14) are 7-1 in their last eight games and 10-3 in their last 13. During the last 13 contests, Towns is averaging 21.1 points, 11.6 rebounds on 55.3 percent shooting from the field and 45.5 percent from 3-point range.
Also on a roll for Minnesota is Jimmy Butler, who scored 28 points Monday. Butler averaged 26.5 points in 15 games last month and scored at least 25 points in six of his last eight games with 23 and 20 in the other two.
More importantly than Towns or Butler's showings was a second straight night with a comfortable lead that allowed the Timberwolves to rest starters on the second night of a back-to-back set.
"We're striving to be good, we just got to continue to keep growing, continue to be great and don't get bored with the process," Towns told reporters. "We're finding some success right now. Don't get too comfortable with it."
The Nets (14-23) are 3-8 in their last 11 games but are seeking a third straight home win for the second time this season. Brooklyn returned from a 1-4 road trip and posted a 98-95 victory over the Orlando Magic on Monday night.
Brooklyn improved to 9-0 when holding a team to fewer than 100 points and 7-0 when holding a team to less than 40 percent shooting after Orlando shot 36.5. The Nets also recorded a season-high 10 blocks and limited the Magic to 19.4 percent from 3-point range.
"It wasn't going our way. Our guys, we never got rattled," Atkinson said. "They just kept at it, trusting our principles, trusting our habits, and we executed, executed offensively and executed defensively. There weren't many breakdowns. We really grinded it out."
Rookie Jarrett Allen, who is ahead of Okafor on the depth chart at center, scored a career-high 16 points to lead the team in scoring for the first time. Caris LeVert added 15 and reached double figures for the ninth straight game and 14th time in last 15 contests.
LeVert and Allen are forming a good chemistry in recent games, with Allen dunking off LeVert's passing in pick-and-roll plays.
"I don't know where it came from, but it's just been there since we started playing together," Allen said.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson also enters Wednesday with eighth straight games in double figures after scoring 13 points Monday.
Minnesota is 11-5 in the last 16 meetings. In the Wolves' 129-109 home win Jan. 28, Towns totaled 37 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks.
Updated January 3, 2018