|Timberwolves hope to stay unbeaten since trade vs. Grizzlies|
The Minnesota Timberwolves are unbeaten since trading Jimmy Butler and playing like the team who reached the playoffs for the first time since 2004 last spring.
Three wins following the aftermath of a major trade may represent a small sample, but for now the Timberwolves can feel good about recent developments.
Minnesota tries to keep the good times rolling Sunday afternoon when it hosts the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Timberwolves (7-9) can see .500 in their sights after returning home from a winless five-game West Coast swing. Minnesota beat Brooklyn and New Orleans in the first two games after trading Butler to Philadelphia and then made it three straight with a 112-96 win over Portland, which Minnesota lost to by 30 on Nov. 4.
"It's still too early," Minnesota guard Derrick Rose said. "Don't put no high expectations on us. We're still trying to figure things out."
Maybe so, but the early returns on what the Timberwolves received from Philadelphia can be viewed positively as Robert Covington and Dario Saric both played roles in Friday's win.
Covington has started his first two games with Minnesota and produced 14 points in 23:22 Friday. In his first two games with his new team, Covington has 27 points and is a plus-8.
Saric has 18 points in a reserve role and is a plus-13 in his first two games.
"Robert and Dario add a lot to that and the energy is contagious and so the effort has picked up," Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. "That's probably the biggest thing."
The effort cited by Thibodeau is likely also leading to improved defensive numbers of late.
When the Timberwolves returned from the trip after a 121-110 loss in Sacramento, they were allowing 117.7 points per game and 47.4 percent shooting. In the last three games, the Timberwolves are allowing 103 points on 41.3 percent shooting.
"We're taking pride," Karl-Anthony Towns said after Minnesota allowed fewer than 100 points for the second time this season. "I think especially right now, you see any one of us mess up, we're looking to the person right away and telling them we messed up."
The Grizzlies are 4-1 in their last five games after their only losing streak of the season.
Although Memphis owns one of the league's lowest scoring offenses at 103.6 points per game, it has scored at least 110 points six times in the first 14 games after doing so 15 times last season.
The Grizzlies followed a 116-113 win in Milwaukee on Wednesday with a 112-104 home win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday. Memphis shot 50.6 percent from the field, the fifth time the Grizzlies shot at least 50 percent, something they did 11 times last season.
Rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. scored a career-high 27 points while making 11 of 16 from the floor. Jackson owns three games with at least 20 points and has reached double figures 10 times so far.
"That just comes from running the floor and making yourself open," Jackson said. "It depends on how the game is going and how we feel it out. We don't really set our minds on anything."
Jackson's big night came in the same game when Marc Gasol became the team's career rebounding leader. Gasol added 19 points and 15 rebounds and enters Sunday with 5,613 rebounds, one more than Zach Randolph.
"It means I've been here a long time," Gasol said. "If you play long enough and you're lucky enough, you're probably going to get some of those."
Gasol has six double-doubles, and in his last five games he is averaging 20.4 points and 9.8 rebounds. Mike Conley is averaging 25.2 points in his last four games after adding 19 points in Friday's win.
Memphis also enters with the league's top scoring defense at 101 points per game, has yet to allow more than 117 points and has held opponents below 100 points six times.
Memphis won two of three meetings last season and held Minnesota below 100 points in both wins.