DENVER – The Timberwolves weren't playing for much late in their blowout loss to Cleveland on Friday night, but for guard Jaylen Nowell, the extended garbage time was a chance for him to show the coaching staff what he could do.
Nowell took advantage of that opportunity and scored 10 points in 15 minutes. After the game, coach Chris Finch said Nowell was one of the only Wolves players who played well.
That turned into more meaningful minutes in Sunday's 116-111 victory over Portland, with Nowell turning in five points and three assists in 11 minutes.
Those solid minutes helped the Wolves maintain a third-quarter lead. Nowell's play that night drew rave reviews from one teammate.
"I hope it doesn't go unnoticed," guard D'Angelo Russell said. "Honestly, I hope a lot of people start paying attention to that name, start giving him some love. Hopefully a team, if it's not us, takes advantage of that. He's more than capable."
Nowell said Russell has been one of his biggest supporters on the team since Russell came to Minnesota two seasons ago.
"Definitely like a big brother," Nowell said. "Ever since he came here we started playing together, played a couple 1-on-1s after practice and stuff like that. He's believing in me. Every single day he's been on me, making sure I get better with reading the game. Not just scoring but finding guys. He's definitely a big help. I don't know if I'd be this successful right now this early if he wasn't here."
Nowell has been biding his time for another opportunity to crack the rotation with Finch saying he could see more minutes moving forward.
"If he keeps playing this way he's going to keep growing his role, no doubt," Finch said.
Nowell's biggest question marks were on defense, where he needed to cut down on fouls and help out rebounding. Finch said he noticed improvement in the rebounding department from Nowell, and Nowell said the changes to officiating have helped him reduce his fouls. There are fewer cheap fouls, he said.
"Whatever is happening, I'm OK with it," Nowell said.
This is Nowell's third season with the Wolves and he is coming off a second season in which he averaged nine points per game. He was in the rotation until a right tibia contusion cost him 14 games in the final two months.
In his third season, he said the NBA game is "much slower" for him.
"Making the reads, being able to watch my film from rookie year and last year, seeing where I could've got guys open shots versus me taking tough ones," Nowell said. "Just being really thorough in film-watching. That really slowed the game down for me and made me read everything a lot better."
The league is considering stricter COVID protocols in the wake of several teams experiencing outbreaks, according to multiple reports. The Wolves have not had an absence for COVID this season and each player is fully vaccinated, team officials have said. ESPN reported 43 NBA players had entered protocols the past two weeks.
Finch said most of the team will be receiving booster shots in the near future.
"Whenever we have some sort of illness in the team, we separate them," Finch said. "We had the flu go through a couple weeks ago. Hopefully we can keep that kind of streak going. We talked a little bit about it before shootaround [Wednesday]. These teams in all these leagues are getting decimated and we don't want anything to derail us unnecessarily that we can control in any small way."
The Wolves-Nuggets game was down an official because of health and safety protocols as crew chief Mark Lindsay missed the game.
The Wolves and Lynx will honor late broadcaster Tom Hanneman by renaming the media room at Target Center for Hanneman, the team announced. Hanneman, who died at 68 just over a year ago, served as the play-by-play voice of the Wolves and later became a studio host for pregame and postgame coverage across multiple sports.
There will be a ceremony to dedicate the media room Friday afternoon.