Poor defense costs Booker-less Suns in Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS — Karl-Anthony Towns’ scoring actually meant something this time.

Two days after his coach characterized his late points as “meaningless” in a listless loss to Miami, Towns led a balanced offensive attack for Minnesota with 32 points and 12 rebounds and the Timberwolves beat Phoenix 119-108 on Sunday.

Alongside Jimmy Butler with 25 points and Andrew Wiggins with 21, Towns kept the Wolves from another bad loss, this one against a Phoenix team missing top scorer Devin Booker.

“Whatever the game plan is offensively, I try to go out there and execute as best as possible,” Towns said. “Whether it is shoot 30-plus shots, or shoot five shots.”

The Wolves probably prefer the former, as long as he shoots the way he did Sunday. Towns went 12 of 26 from the floor, including two 3-pointers, and hit all six of his free-throw attempts.

Coach Tom Thibodeau criticized Towns for not moving without the ball on Friday night, when his star big man got rolling too late. On Sunday, he scored 30 points for the third time this season and recorded his league-leading 16th double-double.

“I thought Karl had great activity today, so that was good,” Thibodeau said. “We need that from him.”

The Suns announced shortly before the game that Booker — who scored 35 points in Phoenix’s home victory over Minnesota on Nov. 11 — would sit out because of an injured big right toe.

With Booker out, the Suns got another big game from their bench, led by Mike James with a career-high 26 points. But Minnesota started the third quarter with a 22-11 run, and Phoenix couldn’t find an offensive spark to seriously threaten the rest of the way.

“He’s one of our best scorers, so it’s a big chunk offensively,” Suns interim coach Jay Triano said about Booker. “But at the same time we shot 50 percent. I thought our movement was pretty good. We shared the basketball, so I’m not disappointed with how we played at the offensive end without him. We weren’t very good defensively.”

The Wolves outscored the Suns 66-50 in the paint, and had 32 second-chance points to Phoenix’s 12.

T.J. Warren — who also had 35 points in the first meeting with the Timberwolves — had 18 points for the Suns, and Phoenix started its six-game trip with its third straight loss.

Minnesota built an early 14-point lead before Phoenix’s bench pulled the Suns back into it. James had eight second-quarter points to help spark a 25-15 run that gave the Suns a brief four-point lead before Wiggins got hot with three straight buckets to put the Wolves back in front.


Triano said he hoped Booker’s status would be day-to-day, but that he still needed to speak with the trainers. “They said if he sat out today it would give him a chance to rest a couple more days, so I’m hoping that means he gets to play.” Before the game, Triano said Booker’s injury occurred Friday night in a home loss to New Orleans.


Josh Jackson started in Booker’s place and finished with five points. … The Suns’ bench scored 61 points. The unit entered the game averaging 45.4 points over its previous five games. … Phoenix lost for the first time in four games when shooting 50 percent from the floor. … The Suns went 13 of 26 from 3-point range, one off the team’s season high for 3-pointers made.


Suns play at Chicago on Tuesday night.

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