Northwest Notes: Wolves, Jokic, Braun, George

The Timberwolves arrived at the All-Star break with the best record in the West, and they’re determined to finish the season as the conference’s top seed, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. It’s an accomplishment that Minnesota has achieved only once in its history — during the 2003/04 season — but it appears to be within reach. The Wolves are a game-and-a-half ahead of Oklahoma City, and their 20 road wins are the highest total in the league.

“It matters if you’re trying to project everything forward,” coach Chris Finch said. “You want every advantage possible. If you have the best record, then of course you get home court, but it’s too far out to really bank on anything.”

Being in contention for the top spot is a major accomplishment for Minnesota, which had to battle through the play-in tournament last season before being ousted in five games in the first round. Rudy Gobert, who has experience as a No. 1 seed with Utah, said it’s important to keep focusing on business and not get distracted by the standings.

“I can feel that we have a purpose,” he said. “Personally, I came here to help this team win a championship. But last year, it was kind of like a lot of adversity. We realized early on that it probably was not going to be that year, but we could feel that we had the potential. And this year, from day one of training camp, it was a different focus, different mindset. We learned from everything that happened last year, and it made us grow.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Nikola Jokic isn’t a fan of the NBA’s new 65-game minimum for players to qualify for postseason awards, per Bennett Durando of The Denver Post. The Nuggets center believes it puts pressure on players to take the court when they shouldn’t, adding that it likely factored into Joel Embiid‘s meniscus injury. “We saw what happened with Joel,” Jokic said. “… I just don’t like it, how it forces players to play even if they’re injured if they want to achieve something.”
  • Nuggets guard Christian Braun has been dealing with a series of injuries dating back to October, according to Sean Keeler of The Denver Post. The latest is a sprained left ankle that robbed Braun of his explosiveness and made him grateful for the week-long break. “I don’t want to sit here and make any excuses, but it hasn’t been great,” Braun said. “But I feel all right … I think this this break for me, personally, will be great for my body. I think that’s the biggest thing for me right now, is getting my body back. (It) hasn’t felt great all year.”
  • Jazz point guard Keyonte George has been through an up-and-down rookie year, but coach Will Hardy has put him back in the starting lineup to see what he can do, writes Tony Jones of The Athletic. George turned in his best game Thursday with 33 points and a rookie record nine three-pointers. “He’s very talented. He plays well with the rest of the guys in our starting unit,” Hardy said. “We just thought it was time to put him back in the lineup.”
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