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Timberwolves return home to face Nets

MINNEAPOLIS -- One reason the Minnesota Timberwolves hold the fourth spot in the Western Conference this season has been their ability to avoid losing streaks.

Six times this season, Minnesota has lost back-to-back games. Each time, they ended the streaks at two by winning their next game. Saturday at home against Brooklyn is another chance to miss a three.

The Timberwolves return home from a three-game road trip in which it lost its last two games at Portland and Golden State. Thursday's 126-113 loss to the Warriors, with All-Star Jimmy Butler missing his fourth straight game, was a letdown with Golden State's 21 3-pointers to Minnesota's six.

The Warriors and Trail Blazers each scored at least 123 points, the first time the Wolves had allowed that many since Dec. 27 against Denver.

"Simple math for sure, but it's the timely threes," Minnesota guard Jamal Crawford told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "It's deflating. You can be in the game within three to five points and then they hit three threes and it goes from five to 14 that fast. And it really is that fast, so you have to weather that storm and be mentally tough."

Expect Brooklyn to try the same approach. The Nets have shot and made the second-most 3s per game in the NBA this season, more than Golden State. But Brooklyn has shot 35 percent from 3 (26th in NBA), while the Warriors have hit a league-best 39.6 percent.

"We did a great job fighting all night," Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns told the Star Tribune. "But it just seemed when we got so close, it just started raining threes again. Contested, uncontested, it didn't matter. They hit them when they needed to hit them. That's the sign of a championship team right there."

The Nets are shooting a lot of 3s, but they aren't hitting and aren't contending for any championships right now.

Brooklyn lost 116-91 at Milwaukee on Friday on the first set of the back-to-back. The Nets were 8 of 34 for 3 (23.5 percent) and shot just 37.1 percent for the game to lose for the fifth time in seven games.

The loss Friday was a rare case where Brooklyn wasn't in a close game. Including Friday, 11 of their past 14 games have been decided by six points or less. They've been successful in the close contests, going 6-5 in the 11 games.

"Last year, we weren't focused as much on end-of-game stuff because we weren't in ends of games," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told the New York Post after Tuesday's one-point loss to Oklahoma City. "But now this is great for our development, and for my development and our staff's. How can we improve our execution?

"You have to have a physicality. It's more free, so we have to understand that. ... We have to figure out how to execute better. We worked on it (Thursday). Normally, we don't. We focus on development and defense. But now we're in a position with our growth where we have to start focusing on that more. I could've been better, and there are a few games like that. It's making us focus on it and improve at it."

One positive for the Nets is guard D'Angelo Russell continuing to work himself back into the rotation after missing 32 games in recovering from knee surgery. Russell played 21 minutes on Friday, his most in four games since returning, and scored 14 points, another high since his return, on 6-of-14 shooting. He did finish with seven turnovers.

Forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the team's third-leading scorer, left with a groin injury and didn't return. Atkinson wasn't sure if he would play Saturday.

"I don't know," Atkinson told the Post. "I think it's a day to day thing. I'm an optimistic guy, and I know we need him."

Butler is also nearing a return from a knee injury. He's listed as questionable. Andrew Wiggins has stepped up his scoring without Butler, averaging 25.8 points in the past four games.

"He's been doing it all year," Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau told the Star Tribune about Wiggins. "I think his impact on winning is far greater this year than it was last year. It's not just his scoring. It's his defense, his rebounding. He's seeing plays now. He's making other people better. He's doing a lot of things for us. He, Jimmy and KAT have sacrificed some shots, but they're winning, which is the most important stat."

Updated January 27, 2018

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