Undermanned Wolves ‘physically and mentally exhausted’ after loss to Raptors
On Wednesday, Minnesota dressed fewer than 10 players for the 11th straight game. Its consequences were revealed when Toronto went on a 25-9 run spanning the first two quarters to erase an early deficit and trot away with a decisive win.
MINNEAPOLIS — Instead of practicing with his teammates or honing his shot behind the scenes, Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine plans to sleep in till 3 p.m., play the new edition of MLB: The Show or Destiny and perhaps catch a movie with his pops.
Coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders banned his entire squad from the Target Center and its practice facilities Thursday, demanding his players rest following another fatigue-laden defeat Wednesday night against Toronto. For a young buck like LaVine, that’s a tough ask, but orders are orders.
"I don’t like taking days off," the rookie said after scoring 22 points in Minnesota’s 113-99 loss. "I’ve been in the gym shooting every day, trying to just continue to get everything better. Basketball don’t stop for me. That’s something I do every day, so it’s going to be a little difficult tomorrow. He already said, ‘Don’t come in.’"
Besides, despite his youth, 20-year-olds LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and whoever else in the Wolves (16-59) locker room that still has legs to stand on could use the respite — even if just for a day; they host Orlando on Saturday before a four-game road trip, then two home games to close out another lost season in Minneapolis.
Wednesday, Minnesota dressed fewer than 10 players for the 11th straight game. Its consequences were revealed when the Atlantic Division champion Raptors (45-30) went on a 25-9 run spanning the first two quarters to erase an early deficit and trot away with their third straight win.
They led by as many as 31 before a Wiggins and LaVine-spurred charge against Toronto’s scrubs made the final tally a bit easier to stomach.
"Men against boys," Saunders said after a home game for the second time this year. "We’re just undermanned. I feel bad for our guys, because you can’t give them reinforcements, more bodies to give them a little bit of rest. They’re both physically and mentally exhausted."
Nikola Pekovic and Shabazz Muhammad are done for the season. Ricky Rubio and Kevin Garnett haven’t played since March 18 and March 7, respectively.
Garnett, Muhammad and Gary Neal — who also has two sprained ankles — are out with a stomach bug. Anthony Bennett returned from a sprained ankle three games ago but tweaked it again Wednesday night.
Seriously. That’s all on Saunders’ latest injury report.
"A lot of guys are playing a lot of minutes," Wiggins said. "I think everyone’s tired. I think that day off will do a lot of good for us."
Even though Wiggins had a 25-point, five-rebound, five assist night, big man Justin Hamilton scored 13 points, Chase Budinger had 19 and LaVine broke 20 for the seventh time this season, the Wolves collapsed under a Toronto 13-for-30 3-point barrage. Eight visiting players scored eight or more points, led by Lou Williams’ 18 off the bench.
Wiggins and LaVine continue to assert themselves offensively, but with the blowout defeats starting to mount, the campaign’s finally starting to shift from "let’s develop these guys and see what they can do" to "let’s just get this over with, already."
That was at least the sentiment from the Minnesota-supporting 12,699 in attendance Wednesday, most of whom were gone by the fourth quarter’s midway point. That allowed the handful of Raptors fans who crossed the border to cheer on their Eastern Conference fourth-place team and get a look at hometown boys Wiggins and Bennett to have a vocal presence in an arena 931 miles from the Air Canada Centre.
"I didn’t get that at first," LaVine said. "It was kind of weird, them cheering on the other team. I didn’t know if Minnesota had a lot of Canadians or anything like that, or if they just came down to see the game because they’re really close. But I just didn’t get it. It was kind of weird to me, like, ‘Dang, man, where are we at? This is supposed to be a Timberwolves game, and the crowd talking crap to us. Wait a minute, man.’ You’ve just got to deal with it."
LaVine, for his part, has been so noticeably gassed lately that he actually leaned over in the second quarter of Monday’s loss to the Jazz and exclaimed his exhaustion. That caught a look from Saunders and a brief benching before a quick foul forced LaVine right back into action.
"I was like ‘gol-ly.’ You see the replay, I was down on my knees like, ‘Dang, man, I’m kind of tired,’" LaVine said. "I didn’t want to say it loud enough, but he heard me. He gave me a grin.
"I’m usually the most energetic. I try to be the most in-shape person. Yeah, I was a little tired. I’m good now, though. I took an ice bath. The legs got a little revived, so I won’t say that again, not to him."
Nor will he go against Saunders’ wishes when it comes to Thursday’s mandatory recovery day, LaVine said.
"I ain’t snitching on myself," LaVine smiled when asked if he’d come to the Target Center on his own, anyway. "I won’t sneak in."