MINNEAPOLIS — Austin Daye had played a grand total of 6 minutes, 43 seconds in the previous nine games when the San Antonio forward found out 20 minutes before the game against Minnesota that he would be in the starting lineup.
Like a pitcher with good numbers against a particular hitter in baseball, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich went with a guy who has played his best against the Timberwolves. Then again, with the Wolves riding a losing streak that has lasted for a full month now, that’s not saying a whole lot.
Daye scored a season-high 22 points and had 10 rebounds to help the Spurs hand the Timberwolves their 15th straight loss, 108-93 on Saturday night.
"Pop believes in all his players and you know he’ll throw you into weird situations at any time," said Daye, who has scored 35 of his 96 total points this season in two games against Minnesota. "So you just got to be ready."
Patty Mills scored 19 points and Tim Duncan added 13 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes for the Spurs (23-15), who were missing Manu Ginobili and Marco Belinelli with injuries.
Gorgui Dieng had 18 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks for the Timberwolves (5-31), who were missing Shabazz Muhammad with an abdominal injury in addition to the long-term absences of Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin. Minnesota hasn’t won since Dec. 10 and is tied with New York for the longest active losing streak in the NBA.
Andrew Wiggins finished with 18 points for the Wolves. That snapped a streak of six 20-point games for the No. 1 overall pick.
"It’s time we all need to realize that we need to take this very personal," Dieng said. "We just need to play harder to win games."
Ginobili was out with back spasms and Belinelli had a groin injury. But playing a man or two down has never bothered them and they certainly weren’t going to worry about it against a young, defensively inept Timberwolves team.
And the Spurs don’t have time to take it easy on anyone. They entered the night seventh in the Western Conference and just haven’t really been able to get going yet after winning the franchise’s fifth championship in June. They’ve mostly traded wins and losses for the last month and haven’t won more than two in a row since an eight-game winning streak ended on Dec. 3.
That’s not going to cut it out West, but the Spurs have been together long enough to know when they need to put their feet on the gas. They are awaiting the return of Kawhi Leonard, who hasn’t played since Dec. 17 because of an injured right hand and Tony Parker is still getting up to speed while being bothered by a gimpy hamstring.
"We’re disappointed we’re in the position we are," said Popovich, whose Spurs are in seventh in the West thanks to an 8-10 December. "We lost some games we could have won. And we were just injured at the wrong time. December was a heck of a month for us schedule-wise, and being injured at that time was tough. So now we have to suck it up and try to catch up with some guys."
They had more than enough against the undermanned Wolves, who are three losses away from tying the franchise record for longest losing skid.
The Spurs closed the first quarter on a 15-4 run and never looked back, carving up Minnesota’s woeful defense with cuts to the basket and curls around screens to generate wide open jumpers.
Daye hit 4 of 8 3-pointers and Cory Joseph added 12 points and five assists off the bench.
Spurs: The Spurs used their 21st starting lineup of the season. That’s the most in the NBA. … It was the fifth time this season the Spurs held a team under 40 percent shooting.
Timberwolves: One night after missing the loss in Milwaukee with a sprained right ankle, PG Mo Williams had 10 points on 2-for-10 shooting. … The Wolves set a franchise record by going 26 for 26 on free throws.
POP BEING POP
Popovich was at his sarcastic best on Saturday night.
Q: Would you like to see Daye play like that more often?
A: No I hope he plays like crap.
Q: How much energy did he give?
A: I think 44.5-foot pounds of; exactly, I don’t have the same formula.