Players’ personalities over time start to reflect their best players’ personalities as well as their coach and Tibs is one of the best coaches around. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder, on Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau
SALT LAKE CITY — A year ago, almost to the day — March 1, 2017 — the Utah Jazz suffered their worst home defeat of the season in a 107-80 thumping by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It was a shocker of sorts because it came at a time when the Jazz were the fourth-best team in the Western Conference at 37-23, while the T-Wolves were in the midst of their 12th straight losing season sitting 10 games below .500.
Now 12 months later as the two teams set to do battle Friday night at Vivint Arena (8:30 p.m.), the roles have been reversed. It’s the Timberwolves who occupy the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference standings at 38-26, while the Jazz are outside the playoff picture in 10th place at 31-30.
Minnesota still has some of the core players from last year in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, a pair of former No. 1 draft picks, but they’ve added some key pieces in Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder says the T-Wolves are much better because “anytime you add good players like Butler and Teague and you have a foundation they have that have been there like Towns and Wiggins and then you add Gibson and his toughness.”
But he said it’s more than that and a lot of it has to do with Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau, who is in his second year as coach.
“Players’ personalities over time start to reflect their best players’ personalities as well as their coach and Tibs is one of the best coaches around,” Snyder said. “Part of it, is his having the opportunity to teach and their players becoming more on the same page as the coach. Then you add some guys that have played for him before and know what he wants, you have a leadership component on the floor as well “
The T-Wolves come into the game having jumped over San Antonio to the No. 3 spot in the West, but they have a tough slate ahead of them with eight straight games against teams with records above .500 beginning with a late game they played Thursday night in Portland.
They also are playing without Butler, who Butler underwent surgery on the meniscus in his right knee after injuring the knee after pivoting and falling to the ground with non-contact suffered in the third quarter of the loss to Houston last Friday. Butler was averaging 22.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists in his first year in Minnesota
Nemanja Bjelica, second-year forward out of former Yugoslavia.
Bjelica is averaging 5.9 ppg and 3.3 rpg on the season but had had 12 points and 8 rebounds in game against Sacramento Monday.
The Jazz practiced for two-and-a-half hours Thursday after practicing on Wednesday and tried to iron out some things that have gone wrong lately, mostly turnovers.
“We’ve talked about taking good care of the ball and execution and trying to button down a package of things we do offensively,” said Snyder. We’re also incorporating Jae at a couple of positions, which is a challenge, and we continue to emphasize our defensive habits The defense is something for us that has to be there all the time and usually what you emphasize in practice is what you get.”
“We got after it and competed,” said Donovan Mitchell. “The biggest thing we reflected on was our turnovers understanding why we had them and getting back to the way we played. We got back in the groove.”
JAZZ NOTES: Backup guard Raul Neto will be out again with a bad ankle for Friday’s game, the fourth straight game he's missed . . . The Jazz head out on the road for a game at Sacramento Saturday night (8 p.m. MT) before returning for a game against Orlando Monday at home . . . The T-Wolves defeated Utah in two previous games this season, 100-97 in October and 109-98 in Salt Lake in November . . . The final game between the two teams this year will be on April 1 in Minnesota.