Jim Souhan
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Rudy Gobert is as awkward as a blind date.

He shoots free throws as if competing in the shot put. He may lead the league in taking knuckles to the nose. He frequently flails, throwing his arms into the air while begging for a foul call.

Wolves guards have learned not to throw the ball to him on the run, or anywhere that requires him to be nimble. Like most of the court.

His awkwardness on the court is compounded by the awkwardness of his predicament. He joined a winning team that dealt half its roster and draft capital for him, requiring the remaining Wolves to adapt to new offensive and defensive schemes organized around the newcomer.

And, like his team, he is steadily becoming a force.

Monday night at Target Center, the Timberwolves lost 118-111 in overtime to Sacramento, ending a three-game winning streak, but Gobert again produced.

He finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, making seven of his nine shots from the field, although just five of 10 from the line. He was the only Wolves starter with a positive rating, at plus-5.

Gobert kept the Wolves in the game during an otherwise ugly first half, totaling 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blows to the face.

In a Western Conference race as compressed as a panini, Gobert and the Wolves didn't do enough to win on Monday, but they've made themselves prime competitors for a top seed.

"This was a game where we were able to find him and feed him in the middle,'' Wolves coach Chris Finch said. "He finished pretty well. Could have used some better free throws, but for the most part he's been playing great defensively. We struggle sometimes when he's not out there, quite honestly.''

Entering the game, Gobert was averaging his fewest points, rebounds and blocks in years. But he's rounding into form, along with his new team.

In the 10 games in January in which Gobert has played 30 or more minutes, he has averaged 15.1 points and 13.9 rebounds. His career averages are 12.5 points and 11.7 rebounds. Last year with Utah he averaged 15.6 points and 14.7 rebounds.

Awkward and efficient are not usually compatible descriptions in the NBA, a league featuring acts of outrageous coordination.

To be fair, Gobert is 7-1 and 258 pounds. He looks outsized even when standing next to NBA players. He's not built to make the slinky or explosive moves patented by Anthony Edwards. Playing as big as his listed height and weight, though, will be required for the rest of the season.

During a long season of adaptation, Gobert's next adjustment may be the most important. Karl-Anthony Towns is expected back from a calf injury sometime in February. Towns was eager to feed the ball to Gobert and make him comfortable early this season, before Towns was injured, but Towns was playing on the heels of a serious illness and the two never played together when both were at their best.

The Wolves have made marked defensive improvement in the last month. Offensively, as they try to win home-court advantage for the first-round of the playoffs, they will be presenting this defensive conundrum to opponents:

Edwards with the ball. The hot-shooting D'Angelo Russell at the three-point line on the wing. Gobert eating space near the lane. Towns, the Wolves' best three-point shooter, standing in the corner, waiting to take the easiest of all three-point shots.

Monday's loss stung, because a victory would have continued the Wolves' rapid rise in the standings, but the real measure of this team will be how they perform down the stretch with Gobert and Towns playing together.

For all the consternation about Gobert's price tag and Towns' flaws, for all the criticism of the modern Two Towers in a league dominated by ballhandlers and wings, I think they'll play well together.

A little more awkwardness is the price the Wolves will have to pay to see their most talented players on the court together.