When the Timberwolves signed Derrick Rose on March 8, it didn't appear to be a major move.
But Tom Thibodeau's more recent attempt to reunite his old Chicago Bulls team might be in a position to pay dividends in the Wolves' upcoming playoff series with Houston.
The reason? Rose's defense.
Rose won an NBA MVP award playing for Thibodeau in 2011. But most of the past six seasons have been spent coming back from injuries and trying to find a secure NBA home. He began this season with Cleveland, was traded to Utah, then released.
After working off some rust, Rose scored 14 points vs. Houston on March 18 in a 129-120 loss at Target Center, the Wolves' closest game with the Rockets this season. Then he sprained his ankle in the next game and missed six games. But his 13 points, three assists and strong defense in a season-high 21 minutes, 49 seconds of playing time were key vs. Memphis on Monday.
"Going through free agency, it's all about being strategic," Rose said. "I wanted to go to a contender. I wanted to go somewhere where I was familiar with the coach, and being here was the perfect situation."
After the Grizzlies game, Thibodeau said Rose had shown just a fraction of what he could do. "You're just seeing the tip of it," he said.
Rose has played in three-guard sets, often with Jamal Crawford and either Tyus Jones or Jeff Teague. Against a Rockets team with such a strong backcourt, so determined to take — and make — three-pointers, good perimeter defense will be key. Rose might be able to offer that.
Rose is just happy to be on a team where he fits.
"We have a young team," he said. "I don't believe they know how good they are. I believe the city doesn't know how good the team is."
Told of Thibodeau's comment that fans have only seen a little of what he could do, Rose smiled.
"It's crazy to hear him say that," Rose said. "I believe in myself. I know that because I know how much I put into just everything. But to hear him say that? This is the same guy I didn't get any compliments from after I won the MVP. So to hear him say that, it means a lot."
Gibson feeling better
Taj Gibson is making progress. When asked a question after practice Friday, he was able to turn his head to the right before answering.
The power forward hurt his neck when the Lakers' Julius Randle fell on it in the Wolves' victory in Los Angeles on April 6. In pain, he left Monday's game vs. Memphis after only eight-plus minutes. He played through the pain in the season finale. He is better, but he's still hurting. Gibson said he will play no matter what.
"I'm banged up," he said. "It's been a tough road to get to this point. The training staff here has been doing a great job. At the end of the day, it's about will and playing through it and trying to be there for my teammates."
Wolves guard Jeff Teague was talking about the Houston defense, which switches often, sometimes giving up a mismatch in size. They do it, Teague said, to try to get a trap on the ball, usually in the post. But, Teague said, that switching defense plays to Andrew Wiggins' strength.
"This is a perfect [matchup] for Wigs," Teague said. "He can attack. They switch and put smaller guys on him at times. So I expect him to have a big series."
The NBA did draft and lottery tiebreakers Friday for teams with the same records. The Wolves lost a tiebreaker with San Antonio, but that pick is going to Atlanta as payment for the 2015 trade that landed Adreian Payne.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma City won a tiebreaker with Utah, New Orleans and Indiana. The Wolves landed the Thunder's pick for trading Ricky Rubio to the Jazz, so the end result is they fell only one spot in the first round, from 19th to 20th.