PORTLAND – For the first three months of the season, questions about the Timberwolves offense persisted.
Through the end of December, a unit that had Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D'Angelo Russell was 23rd in the league.
Those players, and several others on the Wolves, had to sit out in late December and early January because of COVID protocols, and since the Wolves have emerged from that stretch, the offense has picked up — a lot.
The Wolves entered Tuesday's game against Portland with the No. 1 offense in the NBA during January (117.8 points per 100 possessions). That has helped their offensive rating for the season tick up to 16th.
"It's kind of everything that we do just embedding in a little bit better, taking root," coach Chris Finch said. "In the beginning of the season, we probably skipped steps in laying down the foundation of the offense. That was my mistake for thinking we would be building on the foundation we had last year."
For instance, Finch said when it comes to their offense, the team was working on reads and reactions to how defenses might play the Wolves' system and not just concentrating on mastering the base system. Since the Wolves went back to the start, their offense has improved and laid the foundation Finch was hoping to see.
"We probably went right to the options and the reads and it was just probably too much," Finch said. "We didn't have the fundamentals of our offense in place and we were going to go into step two without having really mastered step one."
The COVID absences for the Wolves' top players also contributed, with some players saying they benefited from seeing the offense operate from a distance and the ball movement bench players had in their absence. Russell also said he got a sense for how he needed to better operate the offense.
"I could see myself missing," Russell said. "I could see myself getting guys the ball when they haven't touched the ball in multiple possessions. I see that guy frustrated because he hasn't dribbled the ball. I see that guy that's mad getting back on defense every time because a guy looked him off. Things like that, I feel like I recognize it."
Edwards needed help leaving Sunday's game against the Nets after he banged knees with a player late in the fourth quarter. The apparent injury turned out to not be as serious as it seemed, because Edwards felt fine enough that he wasn't on the injury report headed into Tuesday.
He did say he was dealing with some lingering knee pain.
"I've been having knee problems lately and bumping it makes it hurt super, super bad," Edwards said.
Edwards said he knew after the game he would feel fine and there was no cause for concern about it moving forward.
Patrick Beverley missed his second consecutive game because of a sprained right ankle. Finch said the team is "hoping" Beverley, who is on the three-game road trip, will be back for Thursday's game against Golden State.
"Lucky thing is we don't think it's too, too severe," Finch said. "These things are rarely one game when you do it the way he did it."