MINNEAPOLIS — Ronny Turiaf and Chase Budinger looked on helplessly, again, while sporting suit jackets. Luc Mbah a Moute sat on the bench in his alternate plaid warmup, still dazed after a 48-hour whirlwind that saw him shipped to the Twin Cities from Sacramento. J.J. Barea just shook his head.
For the Timberwolves, reserve help can’t come soon enough.
There were manifold issues in Minnesota’s 117-110 defeat Wednesday against Denver. Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and coach Rick Adelman did well to list them, poignantly and precisely.
“It was a poor showing tonight,” said Love, who dropped several expletives when describing the team’s effort. “All the way around.”
Said Rubio: “We’re not a good team on defense.”
And Adelman: “I was really disappointed with our effort. … You can’t have energy coming into a home game like that.”
But the vastest disparity came from a lower rung, reflecting a growing trend that has the once-torrid Timberwolves (8-9) now a game below .500 with one victory in their past five outings.
On the eve of Thanksgiving, Minnesota’s bench — again — didn’t foster much gratitude from a quiet, unenthusiastic home crowd of 14,244.
“I’ve been on good teams,” said Barea, who won a championship with Dallas in 2011. “Your bench got to be awesome. This team, right now, we really don’t have a bench.”
The NBA’s second-highest scoring reserve group manifested the Timberwolves’ severe second-unit deficiencies for the second time this season. Denver’s bench outscored that of Minnesota 47-10 12 days after outgunning it 66-33 in the Mile High City.
Nate Robinson headed up the onslaught this time, scoring 15 points and nailing three 3s in the second quarter. His last triple gave the Nuggets (8-6) a 48-33 lead — their largest of the night.
Jordan Hamilton scored 11 points, and Andre Miller added 10 off the Denver bench. Barea and Dante Cunningham combined to equal Miller’s offensive production.
And that was it.
“The bench has to come with more energy,” said Rubio, who had 17 points and 11 assists but seven turnovers.
But it’s not just scoring. So thin has Minnesota’s second wave become that Adelman is using his starters more than any other coach in the NBA. Wednesday, only Barea and Cunningham played more than 3:40 off the bench.
Love, Rubio, Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic have played the most minutes and scored the most points per game of any starting unit in the NBA. Wednesday, each scored in double figures, highlighted by Martin’s 29 points and double-doubles from Love and Pekovic.
But they need assistance. Direly.
“I thought the guys coming off the bench and into the game were just blindsided, too,” Adelman said. “We’ve got to find a way to get a crew out there that’s going to come in and really compete.”
It’s why the team traded away former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams for Mbah a Moute, who passed a physical Wednesday and was cleared to suit up but didn’t see the floor. The trade became official Tuesday morning, and the versatile defensive stopper didn’t arrive in Minneapolis until that evening.
It’s why Adelman can’t wait to have Budinger back from his second knee meniscus surgery in the past calendar year. It’s why Turiaf was taking shots with his left hand during the Timberwolves’ shootaround Wednesday morning, longing to get back on the court after fracturing his right elbow in the second game of the season.
The returns of both — which is still up in the air, though president of basketball operations Flip Saunders has made them sound like a matter of weeks — would mean an increase in depth.
And boy, could Love, Rubio and associates use some behind them.
The fact Minnesota just played its sixth game in eight days is no excuse, Rubio said. Neither is the presence of top-tier teams Houston, Indiana and the Los Angeles Clippers in that stretch.
“Of course, we can blame or complain about the schedule,” Rubio said. “We can blame whatever we want to blame. We can find excuses any way, but that’s not the way.
“That’s for losers.”
Said Love: “You guys and the fans might think that we’re gonna need to press the panic button, but we’re not even thinking that way.”
Even after railing into his teammates on the bench during the second half — “We looking like we don’t want to be here,” he told them — Brewer agreed.
With Brewer as its sixth man, the same Denver franchise that’s outlasted Minnesota twice this season played 17 of its first 23 games on the road last year and at one point was 4-6. The Nuggets went to win 57 games and earn the Western Conference’s No. 3 playoff seed.
The difference, Brewer said, was confidence.
“We’ve got to get some kind swagger or energy or something,” Brewer said. “When I was in Denver last year, we thought we were the greatest team ever, even if we wasn’t.
“We’ve got to get an identity.”
That includes the starters, who each played at least 16 minutes and allowed Denver to shoot 63.4 percent in the first half Wednesday. They also failed to close the deal after a 10-0 run brought them within 103-102 at the fourth quarter’s 3:57 mark.
Group effort, group failure.
“We have team,” Rubio said. “There is no bench, no starters. Everybody has to play aggressive.”
But Rubio and the rest of the NBA’s busiest starting five can expect to continue straining until more auxiliary aid arrives.