Second-year guards on display when Timberwolves visit Hornets

On the surface this might have looked like an intriguing get-together featuring teams with top rookies from a season ago.

But in addition to that, it’s a clash between two of the hottest teams in the NBA when the Minnesota Timberwolves and host Charlotte Hornets meet Friday night.

The Timberwolves have won five straight games for their longest winning streak in four years. The Hornets are winners of seven of their last eight games.

“Every win is going to look a little bit different,” Charlotte coach James Borrego said. “As long as we’re checking off wins in the win column, that’s the goal here and we’re learning along the way.”

The Timberwolves are applying their lessons that have been accompanied by aggressive play at both ends of the court.

“Everybody is bringing it,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said. “I like the mindset.”

Friday night’s game will involve productive second-year players for each team. Anthony Edwards of the Timberwolves was the top overall pick in the 2020 draft, while LaMelo Ball of the Hornets was selected as the NBA Rookie of the Year last season.

Both have played key roles in their team’s recent successes.

The Timberwolves have reached the .500 mark for the first time since the opening stretch of the season. They began the season by winning three of their first four games before a six-game losing streak.

The current winning streak includes each result by a double-digit margin.

Minnesota has had three different leading scorers during the streak. Edwards was the first Timberwolves player to reach the 30-point mark during that stretch when he racked up 33 points in Wednesday’s 113-101 home victory against the Miami Heat.

“I think we’re watching him grow in front of us, just all around,” teammate D’Angelo Russell said.

Malik Beasley had a season-high 29 points for the Timberwolves in that game.

Finch said there have been improvements in rebounding to help finish defensive sequences.

“We’ve been selling it to our guys the importance of it,” Finch said.

Four of Minnesota’s past five wins have come at home. Friday night’s game begins a stretch of four of its next five games on the road.

Ball sat out for a stretch in Charlotte’s 106-99 triumph Wednesday night at Orlando. That came about in part because of foul trouble and a missed dunk.

“Just another growth opportunity for him,” Borrego said of the situation.

Yet down the stretch, it was a smaller lineup, which included Ball, that proved critical once again. Borrego said as long as concerns about rebounding are addressed, the Hornets can make such switches.

“The identity of a winning team (is that) they just find different ways to win every night,” Borrego said.

Guard Terry Rozier, with 32 and 27 points, has led Charlotte in scoring the past two games.

The Hornets rallied in the third quarter to seize the lead in Orlando. That was another example that it rarely comes in a simple form for Charlotte.

“We’re still learning along the way,” Hornets reserve Kelly Oubre Jr. said. “We’re still growing together as a unit. … Greatness is what we want and we have to continue to strive for that.”

This meeting with the Timberwolves will be the Hornets’ only home game during an eight-game stretch.


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