Two teams at least slightly improved at the start of the new year will face off Thursday when the Golden State Warriors hit the road for a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis.
The Warriors will enter off two consecutive defeats, but those came after a four-game winning streak. And the most recent loss at San Antonio on Tuesday came in overtime when the Spurs prevailed 117-113.
The Timberwolves absorbed an 11-game losing streak to start December, but they followed that with two victories in three games, and then they gave the Bucks all they could handle Wednesday. Minnesota eventually dropped a 106-104 decision at Milwaukee despite being extremely short-handed.
Golden State is still a month away from the return of MVP guard Stephen Curry from a broken hand. Klay Thompson (knee) is expected to miss the rest of the season. And just as it looked as if the Warriors had figured out a way to survive without a pair of the game's best players, they are now dealing with a new injury.
Guard D'Angelo Russell missed the Tuesday game after he injured his right shoulder in a collision with the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic on Saturday. He is not expected to play Thursday, either. Also out for Thursday is Golden State center Willie Cauley-Stein, who is ill.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr saw plenty of positives in his team's ability to extend the Spurs into extra time without its top talent on the floor.
"I'm enjoying coaching this team," Kerr said of his 9-26 team, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "I just told them that. I enjoy coming in every day and working with these guys, because they play hard, they play for each other and they care about the game. So, I'm not too concerned with our record. I'm just trying to help them get better."
The Timberwolves know the feeling under young head coach Ryan Saunders. Their recent revival has come without Karl-Anthony Towns (knee) and Andrew Wiggins (illness) on the floor. Towns has missed eight consecutive games, while Wiggins has missed the past three.
Also out of action in their inspired performance against the Bucks on Wednesday were Noah Vonleh (glute), Jeff Teague (knee), Jake Layman (toe) and Treveon Graham (illness).
Minnesota had a chance to tie the game against the Bucks in the closing seconds before ultimately falling 106-104. Shabazz Napier had 22 points while Gorgui Dieng had 15.
There is a possibility Wiggins could be ready to play Thursday. Towns, who has been the subject of persistent trade rumors, has logged some time back on the court, but there still is no official timetable for his return. The Timberwolves hope the combination of their new-found energy and the eventual return of their on-court leaders provides some upcoming success.
"If you have your top players, they see how hard we play when we're limited, and when they come back, they should do even better,because they're talented," Dieng told reporters. "Hopefully, when they get back, they can give us the same energy."