Wolves hoping to take advantage of jet-lagged Suns
Two potential-laden young players hope to put recent issues with the referees behind them with the Phoenix Suns take on the Minnesota Timberwolves on the front end of a home-and-home sequence Sunday night in Minneapolis.
Both teams will take the court shackled in losing streaks, and both believe the NBA refs are partly to blame.
The Timberwolves are coming off a 116-113 home loss Friday night to San Antonio, their second straight loss, in a game in which Karl-Anthony Towns fouled out for the sixth time this season. He bit his tongue and refused to comment on the officiating after the game, and his coach, Ryan Saunders, hoped to use the disqualification as a teaching point.
"It's one of those things we just got to keep talking to him," Saunders told reporters after the game. "We're never going to use youth as an excuse or anything. But Karl's maturing more each and every day. So we'll talk, and we'll be better for it on Sunday."
The Timberwolves (21-24), who have gone just 3-4 in their last seven home games, have fallen out of playoff position in the Western Conference in part because of a tough schedule that's had them facing 10 straight playoff contenders.
The consecutive matchups with the Suns, who own the worst record in the West at 11-36, offer an opportunity to get things moving in a positive direction with a game against the Los Angeles Lakers and another home-and-home with Utah on deck.
The rematch with the Suns is Tuesday in Phoenix.
Minnesota failed to take advantage of an earlier meeting with the Suns in December, losing 107-99 on the road in a result that came packaged with a couple of excuses.
Towns played much of that game in foul trouble, and the Timberwolves were at a huge scheduling disadvantage, making the final stop on an eight-day, four-game Western swing in which they never won.
It's Phoenix that's jet-lagged this time around. The Suns lost Saturday at Charlotte and will be playing a fourth road game in six days on Sunday.
Towns (28 points, 12 rebounds) and Suns rookie big man Deandre Ayton (18 points, 12 rebounds) battled on relatively even terms in the earlier meeting.
Second-year Suns swingman Josh Jackson contributed only six points and six rebounds off the bench to the win, but bounced back with double-figure scoring in 10 of his next 14 games. He had only seven points, getting no free throws, in a tightly contested loss at Toronto on Thursday in a game in which Jackson thought the referees played a hand in the decision.
"We didn't get no calls, man," he told reporters after the game. "Simple as that. I felt disrespected. That's what happened, ultimately, and I don't let nobody disrespect me. That's what happened."
The Suns were shellacked 135-115 at Charlotte in a late-afternoon affair Saturday, and free throws were the least of their problems. In losing their third straight overall and fourth in a row on the road, the Suns actually outscored the Hornets 26-23 at the line, which has been a rarity this season.
Phoenix entered the contest ranked 27th in the NBA in free-throw attempts per game at 20.5, having shot more than the opponent just eight times in 46 games before Saturday.
The Suns are 6-27 this season when getting 21 or fewer attempts.
Phoenix had a 20-19 advantage in foul shots and 16-14 edge in free-throw points in the earlier home win over the Timberwolves.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 20, 2019