Faltering Timberwolves no match for Wizards

WASHINGTON, D.C. – There were moments, stretches really, when it seemed like the basketball was hovering above the Timberwolves’ basket, like this was really some demented game of volleyball in which it was board, board, board, snare.

The snare, of course, came by the Wizards, after the Timberwolves had gotten more offensive rebounds than they ever deserved, and after they’d failed to capitalize. Minnesota finished the night with 22, in fact, the most they’ve had in any game this season. That should be a good thing, right? Offensive rebounds mean more chances. But they also mean more misses, more and more and more – at least they did in Friday’s 114-101 loss to Washington, the Timberwolves’ eighth defeat in nine games.

The score says little about the game that unfolded at the Verizon Center. It may represent the Wizards’ offense – they did shoot 57.8 percent from the field, after all – but it doesn’t even begin to cover the Timberwolves’ struggles. So many points, 101, is great for this team this year, you’d think, except that so many of them came at the end when they no longer mattered. It was the first time the team lost when scoring more than 100, but it almost doesn’t count because those were the hollowest 101 points this season.

Other numbers, though, did a better job. Compare, for example, what the Timberwolves knew they’d be going up against with what they did with that information. Compare the Wizards’ past with what they did to the Timberwolves, and, well, it really makes no sense.

The past: The Wizards went into Friday’s game shooting 41.7 percent from the field on the season. That’s worst in the NBA. They were also shooting 33.9 percent from 3-point range, better only in that category than the Trail Blazers, Celtics, Nuggets, Suns and, of course, Timberwolves.

The present: The Timberwolves gave up 114 points to the Wizards, the most they’ve allowed to any team this season, the second-most the Wizards have scored all season. They let Washington shoot 57.8 percent, which is good for the 15th-worst defensive performance in terms of shooting accuracy allowed for any team in any game this season. (It’s not the Timberwolves’ worst, though; they allowed Dallas to shoot 59.7 percent on Jan. 14.) And to top that off, the Wizards also shot 47.1 percent from 3-point range.

Minnesota can justify some of its struggles given that the Wizards have won six of nine, with them having shot a slightly better 47.0 percent over that stretch. But really, Washington is no playoff team. It’s too young in some places, too old in others, riding a hot streak, maybe, but totally beatable.

Combine all that, how stunningly good Washington looked Friday and how awesomely bad it’s been for most of the year, and the Timberwolves have a real problem on their hands. At 5 or so p.m. Friday, it wasn’t unreasonable to think that the Wizards might win, but to imagine a blowout like this one, well, that would have been a stretch. And yet here it is, another loss, a messy one, another step back for a battered Minnesota team.

“This is tough,” Luke Ridnour said. “This stretch is really tough. We’re just fading, and we have to try to stop this thing.”

This isn’t one of those games after which the coach can walk into the locker room, address a few points, and move on. Good job with this, guys, but work on that and the other thing. No, this was one where if you’re Terry Porter, you have to look at them and say that pretty much everything was off. One second, you’re sure it’s defense, and then the next it seems that offense did them in, until eventually you realize that there’s no specific culprit, and that’s worse.

“We’re not scoring enough points,” Ridnour said. “They’re always coming at us. When they’re not taking the ball out of the net it puts a lot of pressure on your defense. So part of it is our offense as well. We’re not getting enough baskets to slow teams down.”

It was a vicious cycle. Get down early, fight a bit to come back, get a little tired in the process and then the whole thing spirals out of control. At one end, there was Bradley Beal and Jordan Crawford sinking threes and John Wall dishing assists and penetrating through the Timberwolves’ defense. Then at the other it was Ricky Rubio hesitating and turning the ball over, Andrei Kirilenko fumbling it all too often and far too many missed free throws (13) to excuse. It’s a wonder the thing came down to just 13 points.

This is a game that’s hard to address, when so many things went wrong. Porter could have spent an hour after it picking through the mistakes, but Rubio summed it up in just 11 words:

“They were hitting every shot,” he said. “And we were awful on offense.”

Really, there was little more than that. Board, board, board, snare. The Timberwolves are trying, sure, but lately it’s as if they can’t stop anyone from grabbing that last rebound and carrying the thing away.

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