Last Shots: On Wiggins’ dunk, digging out of the hole, Towns’ leadership, and locker room happiness

MINNEAPOLIS – Twenty-eight quick thoughts for Karl-Anthony Towns’ plus-28 in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 121-104 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night at Target Center.

1. It was fitting that the Wolves found themselves in a hole on Wednesday night. It’s an incredibly fitting metaphor for the season that’s transpired to this point for Minnesota.

2. Down by 15 points in the second quarter to the Charlotte Hornets isn’t a place that this team should be finding itself. Then again, this team shouldn’t have found itself five games below .500 with 13 games played in the season.

3. The Wolves found their way back, however. They didn’t just find their way back in the game, but this homestand allowed them to officially dig themselves out of the early-season hole that was dug. As they now depart to the west coast for a four-game road trip, the Wolves are heading out that way with a winning record for the first time this season.

4. “I just feel like we’re all happy, we all play well together, and we want to win,” Andrew Wiggins said. “We dug ourselves a little hole earlier in the year with the losses and now we’re trying to fight back to get in new position. Especially with the new guys that came on our team, they’re giving us great effort and they’re game changers on both sides of the floor.”

5. The new guys have helped to change the culture. This is now a team with a defensive identity that didn’t exist before. This is a team that plays for each other now more than they previously did.

6. “Once again, our defense,” Derrick Rose said. “We were able to contest shots, make them miss shots. We made some very good plays on the offensive end passing the ball to the open guy. Of course, our main guys came out and overpowered them on the offensive end.”

7. Aside from the defense, the main guys did steal the show on the offensive end. While Rose won’t consider himself one of them, he certainly is a key cog at that end. With that said, Wednesday was a night for both Towns and Wiggins.

8. Towns was able to dominate in every facet of the game for the Wolves. He had 35 points, 12 rebounds and a season-high six blocked shots. The points are great and have become a staple of what he can do, but defensively he’s been getting better and better. It doesn’t go unnoticed by his teammates, and it shouldn’t.

9. “He’s demanding the ball on the offensive end and tonight he was our anchor on the defensive end,” Jeff Teague said of Towns. He’s calling out the screens, playing hard, contesting every shot. That’s what an All-NBA guy can do.”

10. Since the trade, Towns has been the All-NBA caliber of player that the Wolves need him to be in order to reach their ceiling.

11. The other guy that they need to play to his potential in order to reach the team’s ceiling is Wiggins. He’s not had a great year to date, but this has been his best two games paired together without question. Wiggins was engaged defensively for the second night in a row and was able to keep the team afloat in the second quarter when things weren’t going too well.

12. He entered with 6:49 left in the period after Robert Covington picked up his third personal foul and the Wolves trailing by 14 points.

13. From that point until halftime he scored 14 points and helped lead the Wolves all the way back to tying the game before ultimately hitting the break trailing by two. Wiggins ignited the team a few minutes into his shift with an electrifying put-back dunk off of a miss by Towns that cut Charlotte’s lead to 10.

14. “I was trying to give it in the best way I could, and it came out in a positive result,” Wiggins said of the put-back. “I kind of sensed that just in case he misses I went up for it, and he missed it and I caught it.”

15. Wiggins has never been one to get too emotional on the court. His excitement after the dunk was the most noticeable jubilation from him in sometime. He flexed, he let out a scream, he brought much-needed energy.

16. “It felt good. It was an in-the-moment thing, but it felt good.”

17. It ignited Target Center, and the Wolves. That dunk came with 3:39 left on the clock and started a 15-7 run to finish the half. It was unquestionably the moment that the momentum in the game turned in favor of the Wolves. It gave them life.

18. On Monday night, Houston coach Mike D’Antoni pointed to Wiggins’ 35-foot shot at the buzzer to end the first half as the moment the game flipped, and on Wednesday there was no doubt the same guy was responsible for that shift.

19. Those types of things from Wiggins will help the Wolves reach the goals they have set.

20. Once again, the Wolves are heading out west for an extended period of time. This time they’re in a much better place than they were before. That’s evident in the quote Wiggins gave that mentioned how happy the locker room is. They’re in a much better place now as a team than they were in early November when they went west.

21. “It’s a big difference,” Wiggins said. “I feel like everything now is set in stone. We know what we’ve got to do to win and we’re different defensively, we’re more active, we’re talking, everyone is all over the floor, being more aggressive.”

22. Wiggins is spot on. There’s no more uncertainty on the roster. There’s no more “will Jimmy play, will he won’t?” There’s no more awkwardness or unhappiness in the locker room. This team is in a good place both on the court and off the court. Things have changed drastically since they went 0-5 out west in early November.

23. That’s not to say this team still doesn’t have things to prove, because they do. The Wolves had the comfort of playing at home for 10 of the last 12 games, and the two road games were against Brooklyn and Cleveland. That doesn’t exactly compare to playing at Portland and Golden State, places where the Wolves lost games by 30 and 17 points, respectively, on the last trip.

24. Those will be tests, as will the game against an improved Sacramento squad. If the Wolves play as well as they have at home recently out west, not only will they be satisfied with the results, but they’ll find themselves even more so in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

25. If they’re going to do that, both Towns and Wiggins need to preform like this on a consistent basis away from Target Center.

26. “This is his team,” Teague said of Towns. “We go as he goes. He’s demanding the ball and being aggressive. We all know he’s one of the top players in the league, so we expect that from him and we go to him.”

27. Teague is spot on in that assessment. The Wolves will go as Towns and Wiggins go, and they badly need them to take this game out west for the next four games.

28. The Wolves return to action on Saturday in Portland against the Trail Blazers.