MINNEAPOLIS — Two weeks into a campaign that has the makings of a resurgent one, and it’s already gut-check time for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
A second straight uninspired home performance this preseason had Rick Adelman scratching his head Saturday night. Lethargic starts and iffy shooting aren’t part of a division-doormat-to-playoff-contender formula.
“‘What’s the reason? You think you’re that good?'” Adelman said he asked his team after Minnesota’s 104-97 loss to Toronto.
That’s a challenge from a frustrated coach who has yet to see his revamped, offensively-loaded roster click effectively.
Despite 28 points and 11 rebounds from Kevin Love, the Timberwolves shot 36.4 percent from the floor while allowing a rebuilding Raptors squad to knock down half its shots. Love and fellow starters Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Corey Brewer received their heaviest workloads — between 24 and 28 minutes apiece — of the preseason and never managed to mount much of a run.
Not even in the third quarter, when those four got the bulk of court time against a Toronto lineup featuring one starter.
A squad that was supposed to be markedly better from outside than its league-worst effort of a year ago made 6-of-20 3-pointers. Its active guards — Kevin Martin missed a second straight game with a sore left Achilles tendon — missed 23 of 26 field-goal attempts. Its porous matchup defense allowed 15 different Toronto players to score, led by Austin Daye’s 12 points.
More disconcerting, the Timberwolves looked slow, even a little slower than they did in an overtime to loss to Russian club CSKA Moscow on Monday.
“I don’t understand,” Adelman said. “Like I told them afterwards, we’ve played two home games here, and we’re acting like we’re just going through the motions. We aren’t the San Antonio Spurs, and we aren’t Miami.
“We act like we have plenty of time.”
An eight-day layoff between exhibitions buys them some.
But anything resembling this outing wouldn’t bode well should it transpire against Orlando on Oct. 30 when the regular season gets going.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s preseason,” said small forward Corey Brewer, who scored 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting. “If it’s preseason, or you’re in the park, you have to come out and play your hardest all the time.”
A phenomenon present from the first day of training camp has apparently carried over into exhibition play. Minnesota’s second unit of projected reserves and fringe roster hopefuls has beat up on the top players in the rotation while they steadily get their legs back underneath them.
It happens in most preseason practices, Adelman’s noted, but it can’t migrate into the Target Center with 10,106 fans watching and 18 days until Orlando comes to town.
“I think our first unit is just flat, and that’s a challenge to us,” Love said. “We’re just trying to ease into things. I guess that’s what it is.”
Toronto wasn’t exactly on top of its game Saturday, either.
In a classic example of preseason slop, the Raptors were whistled for 35 fouls and committed 26 turnovers. The Timberwolves stepped to the free-throw line a total of 50 times, hitting 35 freebies but still leaving easy points off the scoreboard.
A dead-even assists-to-turnover ratio — 16 each — didn’t help either.
Rubio took much of the responsibility for Minnesota’s sluggish offense. He went 0-for-7 from the floor and admitted that affected the rest of his game.
That can’t happen, Rubio said.
“I take the blame on that,” Rubio said. “I think the point guard has to start the game, control the game and be aggressive. I wasn’t making shots, but it can’t affect the way I play.”
Now comes a week for continued introspection and correction based on what are sure to be some tough video sessions.
After going 2-2 in six days, it’s a well-needed period, Love said.
“I love it,” Love said. “I think it’s a chance for us to refine on things and look at a good amount of film and know what exactly Coach wants.”
Said Rubio: “We know we can change it. We have time, but it’s time to do it. We can’t start the season like we have done, especially at home.”
NOTES: Martin dressed Saturday night and even had his named called during starting lineup announcements, but did not play. The offseason free-agent acquisition sat out his second game since straining his right Achilles on Wednesday in Toronto. Adelman said the tendon is “still really sore.” … Former Timberwolves assistant Bill Bayno returned to Minneapolis for the first time since new Raptors coach Dwane Casey hired him as his top assistant. Bayno had worked under Adelman since he took over in 2011. … One point of emphasis among NBA officials this season is calling delay of game when teams touch the ball immediately after scoring. The Raptors were guilty of it four times Saturday, with the final three infractions — all in the third quarter — resulting in technical fouls. The rule is meant to allow teams a chance to inbound the ball quicker and speed up the entire course of play. But three foul shots at the other end of the floor Saturday had the opposite effect in a non-televised game that took 2 hours and 19 minutes to complete. … Minnesota doesn’t play again until next Sunday against Boston in Montreal.