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Last Shots: On the honeymoon phase, Covington’s stat line, the bench unit, and Josh Okogie

MINNEAPOLIS – Twenty-five quick thoughts for the 25 points scored by the San Antonio Spurs in the first quarter of Minnesota’s 128-89 win on Wednesday night at Target Center.

1. At some point the honeymoon phase has to end for the Wolves. At some point the Wolves will have to come back down to Earth and resume mediocrity.

2. But what if the honeymoon phase is over already? What if the version of the Wolves that has been on display for the nine games since shipping Jimmy Butler is who the Wolves actually are?

3. What if the Wolves are actually this good?

4. Sooner than later, this won’t be considered a small sample size. Minnesota is 7-2 since the trade, the best defensive team in the NBA. It’s not as if they’ve been facing cupcake offenses, either. The Spurs, Nets (twice), Pelicans, and Trail Blazers are all teams in the top half of the league in offensive rating. The Wolves have held all of them below 110 points and won.

5. Prior to the trade this was the worst defensive team in the league, now, they’re one of the best. It’s a sustainable formula, too. Robert Covington has transformed the way Minnesota plays defense. The Wolves don’t give up anything easy, and Wednesday night was another example of that.

6. This is now a team that plays with pride defensively. Each and every possession matters to them now. That’s not something that could be said three weeks ago.

7. Before the trade for Covington and Dario Šarić was made the Wolves were dead-last defensively with a rating north of 114. Since then they’ve had the second-best defensive rating in the NBA at 98.6. The only team better since the debuts of those two has been Oklahoma City with a 98.5 defensive rating.

8. If there’s a way to get back into the playoff picture, it’s taking care of business at the defensive end. It’s never happened to this extent with this group of players, until now.

9. “I’m not sure, maybe Rob and Dario and those guys coming over, giving us that boost of energy,” Jeff Teague said after the win. “Guys just wanting to win, those two guys brought a winning mentality on the defensive end.”

10. The winning mentality cannot be denied. There’s a new energy around this team, both on the floor and in the locker room. Karl-Anthony Towns has been unleashed, and Covington has been a big reason why. Those two have quickly formed what seems like a legitimate off-court bond. They’re routinely the last two to leave the locker room, often planning where they’re going to go to dinner after games. In some sports it doesn’t matter whether the guys in the locker room like each other, but in a room with only 15 guys, chemistry matters.

11. Those two have thrived off of each other, and Covington has been the perfect fit in Minneapolis. On Wednesday night he was a career-best plus-44 on the court.

12. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before,” said coach Tom Thibodeau after the win.

13. Covington was everywhere for the Wolves defensively, and that’s had a carry over to the rest of the team. Teague seemed particularly active defensively, as did Tyus Jones and Towns continues to improve at that end of the floor.

14. The last time the Wolves were .500 was the night Derrick Rose scored 50 points against the Utah Jazz at home. That was night that saw Butler sitting out and taking everything that Rose could muster up to will the Wolves to a victory. After that night they lost five straight and made the trade.

15. No matter what way it’s spun, making that trade, incorporating a pair of new players, and going on a run like this is impressive. The Wolves went from an afterthought at the bottom of the standings back to in the thick of the playoff race in the loaded Western Conference. They’ve had the look of a contender.

16. “Guys just playing free out there, doing the right thing, moving the ball really well, playing free and open,” Covington said. “Guys just making plays, no one is out there thinking a lot. Just go out there and do what you do, that’s allowed us to be successful.”

17. Once again, the bench was a huge reason as to why the game became a blowout. The first quarter was tight, with the Wolves ahead 28-25. Once the second period began, the game ended for all intents and purposes. Minnesota’s bench sparked a 22-4 run to open up the second quarter. The Wolves in total outscored the Wolves 29-9 in the second period.

18. As expected, Covington was a huge reason as to why that was the case. He played 19 first half minutes and the Spurs were only able to score 18 points with him on the floor. In Covington’s 30 minutes on Wednesday the Spurs only scored 38 points. That’s remarkable and arguably a more impressive stat than his final line of plus-44.

19. Much to the delight of fans, rookie Josh Okogie got extended time on the floor for the first time since Covington and Šarić arrived. He’s played only garbage time minutes for the past few weeks, and the same was true on Wednesday, it just so happened that the entire fourth quarter was garbage time.

20. When Okogie stood up and unzipped his warmup jacket the fans at Target Center let loose what was arguably the loudest cheer of the night to that point. The place then erupted at a higher level when he rose up for a dunk in traffic. The rookie poured in 12 points in just 10 minutes of action.

21. He will likely still be out of the rotation moving forward but being able to stay ready when his number was called is a very impressive thing for a player that hasn’t been put in that situation before. Okogie said the ovation he received from the fans helped amp him up, but nonetheless it was good to see him perform at that level.

22. The San Antonio Spurs came into Target Center and were outplayed in every facet of the game. At one point the Wolves were able to increase the lead over the Spurs to 48 points.

23. There’s no doubting that this was the best game of the entire season thus far for the Wolves. Now, they just need to figure out how to repeat this performance. It’s unrealistic to think that they’re going to continue to win games by 40-plus points, but it’s very realistic to see this type of effort repeated.

24. This game could serve as one of two things when looked back at later this season: the night the Wolves told the world they’re for real, or the highlight of the honeymoon.

25. The Wolves get back in action on Saturday night against the Boston Celtics. Talk to you then.


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