Karl-Anthony Towns has rarely experienced the kind of professional joy he has had this season.
It hasn’t been his best year statistically, though he did score a career- and franchise-high 60 points on March 14, becoming the first center since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 to score 60 points in a game. Nor is it the first time he’s had a shot at the playoffs in Minnesota.
But it is, he said, the most supportive and unified team he’s ever been on as a pro.
“We’re a swaggy team,” Towns said. “We’ve got great chemistry. We feel very confident in what we can do. We know any time we step on the basketball court, we can beat anyone in the world.”
The Timberwolves (46-36) finished the regular season at seventh in the Western Conference, and will face the eighth-place Los Angeles Clippers in the play-in tournament on Tuesday night in Minneapolis. The winner will be the seventh seed in the playoffs and face the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round. The loser will play again on Friday for a chance to be the eighth seed and face the No. 1-seeded Phoenix Suns.
If the Timberwolves win this week, they’ll make the playoffs for only the second time since 2004. The only other time during that stretch that Minnesota made the playoffs was in 2017-18, with Jimmy Butler.
This year is Towns’s seventh in the N.B.A. since the Timberwolves drafted him first overall in 2015 from the University of Kentucky.
Towns spoke with The New York Times about what he loves so much about this team and why he feels more confident in his trash talk these days.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve grown close with guard Patrick Beverley this season. What did you think of him before you played with him?
I always thought of Pat Bev as a pest, you know? Someone you hate to play against but you would love to have on your team. I was right. Having him as a teammate now, you see why so many teams find such amazing value in him, because he is that valuable to a team.
Do you remember when you started to realize how special he was for this team?
I mean, I knew how special he was before, just off his personality and hearing him on the court and everything. I already knew he was a different kind of player. I knew he was special [for the Timberwolves] early on just because the kind of energy he attracts and the kind of energy he expends out. The way he comes to work and the way he approaches work is something I very much appreciate and am very happy to see every day. It makes all of us better, it makes practices better and makes us more engaged.
After your 60-point game, you said you hadn’t really been celebrated like that before. What did you mean?
Never had that kind of water poured on you, that kind of thing, that kind of celebration for a player, and for it to be me, I’ve never experienced that.
I’m so used to feeling like every day at work is another day; regardless of what I put up, it’s what I’m supposed to do. I was supposed to go out there and give ourselves the best chance to win and score at a high rate. So it was just another day at the office. I knew it was a special moment, but it was something I was supposed to do. That’s how I felt.
Does it help individual players’ confidence, not just yours but everyone’s, to have the kind of closeness as a team you’ve talked about?
Yeah, because everyone understands we all want to sacrifice for the betterment of each other and for the betterment of this team. Whatever it takes to win, we will do as a team. I think with winning comes glory for everybody. So we’re fighting for the same thing, and that’s what makes us so dangerous.
Given everything you’ve gone through from a basketball sense, did you ever wonder if you’d ever be part of a team like this?
No, I never had doubt. I never doubted myself one time for what I could do. I never doubted my skill set, my competitive edge, my competitiveness. I never doubted the work I put in. I knew I just had to wait for my chance. I had to wait for my chance to have a team like this, to have a coaching staff that’s this great. And I’ve had great coaching staffs, but to have a coaching staff mesh with a group of guys the way they have, it builds wins and it builds camaraderie and chemistry. I knew I just needed some stability and a chance and I would run with it and make the most of it.
You guys got a lot of attention for the way you guys were ribbing and trash-talking the Los Angeles Lakers when they were in Minneapolis in March. You don’t always display that kind of swagger. What has made you feel comfortable showing that side of yourself?
Just the chemistry I have with the guys to know that any situation I’m walking into — I feel, we move like a gang. To feel like we move like a gang, not even in a bad sense, in a negative connotation, but just more when I walk on the court I feel like I’ve got 14 brothers behind me in anything I do.
It allows me to pull more of my Jersey side. I’m from Jersey. Have that a little bit of trash talk, but more the swag, the confidence we walk around in our neighborhoods with. It’s always great when you feel like you have a team behind you that’s there with you in the trenches, but also winning. You ain’t going to say too much when you’re losing.
If the playoff system was like it had been before, you guys would just be in a first-round series. What’s your opinion on the play-in tournament?
If we didn’t want to be in the play-in tournament, we should have got more wins and been the sixth or fifth seed. That’s just what it is. I’m not here to complain about any of that. Got to do what you’ve got to do.
Are there any ways you’re personally different from the last time you had a shot at the playoffs?
My situation is totally different. I’m happy to walk into a situation like this.
Can you expand on that?
Nah. I don’t want to expand on that. I’m not going back on some past [stuff]. Past is the past. I went through it already once and I’m happy I’m going to go through it this time differently.