Playing without Michael Beasley on Sunday proved to be anything but disastrous for the Timberwolves, who defeated the Washington Wizards 93-72 in a game that was the best spotlight so far for the Timberwolves rookies.
Beasley did not travel to Washington after suffering a right mid-foot sprain against Cleveland on Friday. And though much was made of his absence, it proved almost inconsequential. The winless Wizards fell to 0-8 on the season, and the Timberwolves won their first road game since last March, due in large part to the performances of Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio off the bench.
"With the absence of Michael, it really hurts our team, but it's my job to help and contribute the way I can," Williams said.
Washington, which may have been the closest thing to an easy target for the Timberwolves, may have been the best testing ground for a replacement lineup, one that allowed Williams a season-high 30 minutes. And with Beasley's inconsistent play this season, the Timberwolves weren't missing too much without the starter.
Coach Rick Adelman shuffled his starting lineup, moving Wes Johnson to Beasley's spot at small forward and giving Wayne Ellington the start at shooting guard. Although the move to his college position did little to lift Johnson from his early-season funk, Ellington contributed 13 points and was 2-3 from three-point range. Six players finished the night with 10 or more points, which Adelman said was almost necessary in the absence of Beasley's scoring threat.
"It's an attitude the team has to have if someone misses a game, if someone else has to step up," Adelman said. "We had a number of guys in double figures, and I think that's a credit to these guys."
Although it was arguably a big game for many of his teammates, Williams had the true breakout performance on Sunday. Adelman said Williams did what he asks of all bench players, providing energy, but he also managed to stretch the Washington defense and move the ball.
The forward finished the afternoon with 14 points, the most he's scored in a game all season. But the rookie truly stood out from beyond the arc, making four of seven three-pointers. He also teamed up with Rubio, positioned far beyond the three-point arc, one an almost improbable alley-oop.
"My and Ricky's job is to come in and spark up the team," Williams said. "We have a lot of energy coming off the bench to put up a lot of points. He's a great passer as well."
This may be the first time all season that the No. 2 pick overshadowed Rubio, and even so, the point guard's numbers were some of his best of the season. His 13 points off the bench helped energize the Timberwolves' offense, and his 14 assists marked a season high.
"That's the best we've moved the ball as a team," Adelman said. "We changed sides of the court, solid tempo. Like I said, a solid win."
It was the Timberwolves' largest margin of victory yet, a win that marked the end of a 12-game road losing streak dating back to last season. And with Beasley, 2008's No. 2 draft pick, sidelined, the next generation of rookies provided plenty to compensate.
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