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Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns made his return to the court on Friday against the Atlanta Hawks. Towns had been sidelined since March 4 and had surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee on March 12. So speculation swirled this past week about a possible return. The source? Towns himself:

The Minnesota big man started against the Hawks on Friday and finished with 11 points, five rebounds and eight assists. 

The 18-game layoff was beneficial for Towns, who is now ready to help the Timberwolves in their playoff charge.

"Having had so much time to watch this team and watch from a different lens gave me a good understanding of what I can do when I go out there to help this team and impact it the most," Towns said after the win, which pushed Minnesota into a three-way tie for first place in the Western Conference with the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Towns converted a crucial 3-pointer from the corner with 2:29 to play, giving the Timberwolves a slight edge they would hold onto against the Hawks. 

With just one game left in the regular season -- the Wolves host the Phoenix Suns in their regular-season finale -- Sunday will determine the top seed in the West. 

Minnesota went 12-6 in the 18 games without Towns, with an average (i.e. 115.3 points per 100 possessions) offense and a dominant (i.e. 108.6 per 100) defense in that span. In other words, the Wolves essentially performed at the same level as they did before Towns' injury. Much of the credit for this must go to delightful big man Naz Reid, who has become one of the frontrunners for Sixth Man of the Year. Over that stretch, Reid averaged 17.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.4 blocks in 28.8 minutes and shot 42.6% from 3-point range on 6.8 attempts per game.

Reid's minutes will decrease with Towns back in the picture (unless head coach Chris Finch decides it's time to normalize three-big lineups), which is a bit of a shame. Nonetheless, the return of a four-time All-Star is great news for Minnesota, whose offensive ceiling in the playoffs is surely higher now. In 60 games pre-injury, Towns averaged 22.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in 32.8 minutes, with a 26.9% usage rate and a 62.8% true shooting percentage.

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