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Wednesday NBA Roundup: Karl-Anthony Towns Learning Hardest Superstar Lesson Yet

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 1, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 30: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves talks with Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks after the game on November 30, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
David Sherman/Getty Images

Eyes downcast as he walked off the floor following the Minnesota Timberwolves' gut-wrenching 106-104 loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday, Karl-Anthony Towns must have been wondering if he had a third option.

He'd already said everything a superstar is supposed to say.

"These losses fall on my shoulders," he told reporters after a Monday loss. "This is no one else’s fault—none of the coaching staff, none of my teammates. It’s my fault. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault but myself, and it’s something that I’ve got to fix."

And after a luminescent 47-point, 18-rebound effort in defeat against the Knicks, he'd done everything a superstar is supposed to do.

"What else is there?" he must have asked the heavens as he shifted his plaintive gaze from the floor to the rafters.

Towns was brilliant from the outset, scoring 22 points in the first quarter on 8-of-8 shooting and steadily piling up highlights throughout. He was energized, driven to back up his words with deeds on both ends.

His production was historic, as Tommy Beer of Basketball Insiders relayed:

Tommy Beer @TommyBeer

Karl Anthony-Towns becomes just the ninth player in the last three decades w/ at least 47 points & 18 rebs. Here's other 8 via @bball_ref https://t.co/Z7xpTfv0ub

And for a moment, it almost seemed like the Timberwolves would make it count.

Instead of blowing a late lead as they've done so many times this season, they erased one, tying the game at 104 after trailing by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter. Towns had done it mostly without help all night, and it was painfully fitting that his teammates kept him from factoring in the most crucial closing moments.

Andrew Wiggins surrendered the game-winning jumper to Carmelo Anthony, and Zach LaVine threw away the inbound pass, eliminating any chance of an answer on Minnesota's final possession.

No other Timberwolves starter made half of his shots, and the bench scored five points combined.

In addition to Anthony's late heroics, the Knicks got top-line production from Kristaps Porzingis, who finished with 29 points, eight rebounds and four assists. The guy picked three spots after Towns also took the opportunity to tell his draft-mate he wasn't intimidated:

As has often been the case this season, Porzingis flashed skills never before seen in a 7'3" player:

But while it's tempting to spin this into another one of those trite rivalry angles, the real story is Towns and the brutal lessons he's been forced to learn lately.

Had Minnesota pulled this out, it would have been a galvanizing victory—a solution to so many of its problems. All season, the Wolves have struggled to pull together, instead seeking to solve struggles and erase deficits individually. A win against the Knicks, with Towns backing up his comments by carrying his team, would have clarified an undeniable hierarchy.

It would have driven home the idea of Towns being the fulcrum and everyone else figuring out how to fit around him. Teams don't need pecking orders as much as they have to know who to turn to when adversity strikes.

Towns, because of his talent and demeanor, is that guy. He probably has been since he first took the court as a rookie. But a win against the Knicks would have solidified and underscored that status in a critical way.

Instead, a newly complicated dynamic arises.

Towns, having talked the talk and walked the walk, cannot plausibly follow losses by taking the blame now. He's played that card, and by totally dominating without help, he can't play it again. It was diplomatic and admirable to say the Wolves' failures were on him before.

Now, saying the same thing again would read as a joke at best and disingenuous at worst.

I mean, this isn't complicated, as NBA analyst Jared Dubin points out:

Yaya Dubin @JADubin5

Towns sat for six minutes, during which the Wolves were outscored by nine points. That's the game right there.

This presents a fresh obstacle.

Towns has already said plenty and done more, and now he may just have to be patient with a roster that isn't ready to support him yet.

Call it another step in the journey toward certain superstardom—one that might be the toughest yet.

   

Curse You, Foul Condensation!

Despite DeMarcus Cousins' very best mopping, the floor of the Wells Fargo Center was deemed too slick to play on.

As such, the game between Boogie's Sacramento Kings and the Philadelphia 76ers was postponed Wednesday. It'll be played "at a later date," according to a release from the NBA.

Realistically, this is for the best—even if it'll be tricky to cram a rescheduled meeting into the ledger. Chances are, we wouldn't have gotten to see Joel Embiid square off with Cousins because, at the first sign of moisture on the floor, I'm guessing the Sixers immediately shrouded Embiid in bubble wrap, threw him into an unmarked van and rushed him to an undisclosed nuclear bunker.

It's the same thing they do whenever someone within Embiid's 30-foot radius sneezes without covering his mouth.

They're just not willing to risk the guy's health, which is fine. At least the bunker had Wi-Fi access:

Joel Embiid @JoelEmbiid

Well The court was tanking tonight.... #TrustTheProcess

   

Andre Drummond Helps When He Sticks Around

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 30: Andre Drummond #0 of the Detroit Pistons grabs the rebound against the Boston Celtics on November 30, 2016 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Not getting tossed for a phantom elbow in the second quarter? Progress!

Andre Drummond got the boot Tuesday for kinda-sorta elbowing Roy Hibbert in the head, but the Detroit Pistons won anyway. And on Wednesday, Drummond led his team to an impressive two-fer.

Detroit shot the lights out, hitting 45 percent of its threes and 55.2 percent overall in a 121-114 win over the Boston Celtics. The season-high points output was a natural result of that marksmanship and Drummond grabbing the few attempts that didn't go down. He finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds, eight of which came on the offensive glass.

With Drummond snatching a trio of offensive boards in the opening minutes, SB Nation's Paul Flannery crunched some numbers that wound up serving as a good summary for the game:

Detroit is now 10-10, despite Reggie Jackson not playing all year and Stanley Johnson losing his spot in the rotation. 

And while I'd love to make a sharper forward-looking observation about the Pistons, I think I'd rather just sloppily transition to a shot Isaiah Thomas made (that didn't count) because, well...because it was cool.

That banked in. Physically impossible. I demand an investigation into the ball...or the backboard...or, I don't know, gravity.

   

Hurry Back, Mike Conley

Well, here we go, right?

Game No. 1 of Mike Conley's absence featured the Memphis Grizzlies giving up a 71.8 true shooting percentage and 120 total points in a 15-point loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Andrew Harrison got the start in place of Conley, who's expected to miss up to six weeks with lower back fractures, and he actually played pretty well, scoring 21 points and handing out four assists in 35 minutes. But Memphis' offensive flow suffers without its best backcourt player, plus Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are the wrong guard tandem to face without Conley's trustworthy defense.

TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 30: Andrew Harrison #5 of the Memphis Grizzlies handles the ball against the Toronto Raptors on November 30, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Ron Turenne/Getty Images

The Grizzlies are still in good shape at 11-8, and the unheralded collection of talent they'll rely on for the next few weeks is, at least, probably the most athletic group the franchise has had in years.

But this is the beginning of a rough stretch, and Memphis will be lucky if it's hovering around .500 when Conley returns.

   

Dwyane Wade: Spin Move Sensei

There was a lot of talk about masters and pupils leading into the Chicago Bulls' 96-90 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, but most of it had to do with Jimmy Butler facing Luol Deng, who helped guide Butler during his early years with the Bulls.

"The way I look at it, I owe [Deng] a little bit," Butler told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. "That's why I'm going to show him the protege is doing it."

Butler and Deng have immense respect for one another, so the comments were of a friendly nature. What Wade did to the Lakers was less amicable.

Chicago Bulls @chicagobulls

Wade's got all the moves 🔄 https://t.co/jzG39hv9mb

"You have much to learn, grasshopper," Wade said to Larry Nance Jr. ...in my imagination.

Butler was just 4-of-18 on the night, and the Bulls struggled mightily from the field, giving the Lakers an impressive win despite the absences of D'Angelo Russell and Nick Young.

Off night and all, Butler remains the Bulls' best player, but it's always nice to get a little reminder that Wade's value goes quite a ways beyond locker-room wisdom.

   

Dwight Howard Is a Mid-Range Master?

Atlanta Hawks @ATLHawks

Dwight "Mid-Range" Howard https://t.co/QCrUOAU2AB

Dwight Howard's career revival is getting ridiculous. In addition to posting his highest player efficiency rating since his final season with the Orlando Magic and the best rebound rate of his NBA life, he's also apparently shooting jumpers.

He hit a couple of mid-rangers in the Atlanta Hawks' 109-107 loss to the Phoenix Suns, which helped obscure his other foray into skill expansion: a half-court pass that caromed wildly off the backboard after Howard dribbled the ball up the floor following a defensive rebound in the first quarter.

Fear notHoward isn't morphing into a jump-shooting sniper. Coming into Wednesday's game, only 2.5 percent of his shots came from 16-23 feet, and he was hitting 25 percent of them.

But with Paul Millsap out, maybe Howard felt the need to expand his game a little. Turns out he probably needed to shoot threes and defend multiple positions to compensate for his missing teammate because the lowly Suns somehow secured the win.

Howard is doing cool stuff, but the Hawks just went 0-3 on a trip out West and now sit at an ugly 10-9 after a 9-2 start. No team's narrative has flipped from good to bad as quickly as Atlanta's over the past couple of weeks, and no number of mid-rangers from Howard will stop this slide.

   

Triple-Double Deja Vu

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 30:  Russell Westbrook #0 and Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder are seen during the game against the Washington Wizards on November 30, 2016 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. At 2:00 left in th
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Here’s a new roundup feature we’re debuting.

It’s called "Did Russell Westbrook finish with a triple-double?" The entire feature is just one question, which is: Did Russell Westbrook finish with a triple-double?

Drumroll…

Yes. Yes, he did.

See, we have to do this now because Russ has already amassed nine of them, with his 35-point, 14-rebound, 11-assist effort during a 126-115 overtime win against the Washington Wizards, marking the ninth time he’s achieved the feat in 20 games. The rest of the NBA has nine as a whole.

Westbrook’s fourth straight triple-double obscured the real story of OKC’s win, which was center Steven Adams adding to his resume as the league’s most likable human.

Via Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript:

Fred Katz @FredKatz

Steven Adams just went over to argue referee Tony Brown's travel call, said something civil, and then hugged him to end the interaction.

You already had me at mustache, Steven. Hugging officials is just piling on.

I mean, surely you didn't do anything else endearing with your equally delightful teammates...

Enes Kanter @Enes_Kanter

We're the three best friends that anyone could have And we'll never ever, ever, ever leave each other 🎤😂 https://t.co/3lifLzdhWO

Oh, come on!

   


It Has Come to This

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 25: Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks is seen against the Cleveland Cavaliers on November 25, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and o
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Due diligence has never been so depressing

We should appreciate the Dallas Mavericks for realistically assessing their situation, but this note from Tim Cato of SB Nation is still a painful reality check:

Tim Cato @tim_cato

yes, the Mavericks have a few scouts in attendance at TCU-Washington watching Markelle Fultz.

Fultz, for the uninitiated, is one of the top prospects eligible for the 2017 NBA draft. There's a good chance he'll be the top overall pick. And, perhaps more pertinently, the Mavs have a pretty solid shot at getting him.

Dallas fell to the San Antonio Spurs 94-87 in a game Tony Parker and Pau Gasol both skipped. At 3-14, the Mavs have the NBA's worst record. Critically—and this is where Fultz comes in—they might also have the least impressive pipeline of young talent.

That's what making the playoffs during 15 of the last 16 seasons can do to a team. 

Follow Grant on Twitter and Facebook.

Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Accurate through games played Nov. 30.

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