Wolves having tough time getting transition game going

MINNEAPOLIS — Adapt to adaptation.

If the Timberwolves have learned anything in back-to-back
losses this week, it’s that what is a strength one day can become a liability
the next.

“In this league, coaches are really smart,” coach
Rick Adelman said. “You’ve got people all over the world, scouts all over
the place, and they’re gonna come up and try to take your options away.”

Tuesday and Wednesday’s exhibit, provided by the Wizards and
Clippers: the transition game.

The NBA’s fourth-most effective team on the break (17.6
points per game) was outscored 58-24 in fast-break points during losses to
Washington and Los Angeles. Minnesota’s last four opponents, including those
two, have put a premium on hustling back on defense and controlling tempo.

It’s not the sole reason for the Timberwolves’ 1-3 mark
during that span, but without notching more than 14 transition points since
throttling Cleveland last week, they’ve become considerably less formidable
than the team that raced out to a 6-3 start.

The floor-length outlet passes from Kevin Love to Corey
Brewer have been taken away. So have open running lanes when Love or Nikola
Pekovic snags a rebound and quickly finds Ricky Rubio streaking toward
half-court, already looking to a hit a teammate on the fly on his way to the
basket.

So Minnesota must adjust.

“I just think we’re getting different looks from
teams,” Love said. “Obviously, they’re trying to get back as much as
they can. But we’re pretty good in the half-court as well.”

The Timberwolves had to be Wednesday just to stay alive in a
102-98 loss to the Clippers, who outscored them 25-15 on the break. Only one
Minnesota outlet pass led directly to points.

Tuesday, a feisty, desperate Washington squad ran the
Timberwolves up and down the Verizon Center floor — much like Minnesota’s done
to the likes of Oklahoma City, Cleveland and the Lakers this season — and
finished with a 33-9 transition-points edge.

Of course, when an adversary makes nearly half its
field-goal attempts, chances to get out and run are limited, no matter how
quickly said opponent makes it back defensively after misses. Further
complicating matters have been at least 13 Timberwolves turnovers each of the
past four contests, many of which have led to easy points at the opposite
basket.

And Minnesota hasn’t been returning to its own end quickly
enough, either, Adelman said.

“You’ve got to run,” said Adelman, whose team has
yet to win when it’s outscored in transition. “It doesn’t matter where
your guy is. You’ve got to run, and we haven’t been doing that, so it’s
something we’re going to have to keep harping on.”

If they can force enough misses Friday, the Timberwolves may
have a chance to speed things back up when Brooklyn comes to town. The Nets
rank second-to-last in the league with 9.1 fast-break points per game but are
allowing just 12.9.

Williams saga continues: Maybe Derrick Williams should steal
A.J. Price’s No. 22 jersey and have the nameplate changed to read
“Catch.”

Williams needs minutes to get more comfortable. But Adelman
has only been able to find them for him in spurts, thanks to Love’s return at
power forward, Dante Cunningham’s steady hand and the Robbie Hummel’s emergence
as Minnesota’s No. 2 small forward.

So Williams spends a lot of time sitting, trying to be ready
for an opportunity. When they’ve come, he’s struggled to jump right in.

“It’s tough,” said Williams, who’s under contract
with the Timberwolves through 2015. “I got a few DNPs in a row. Whenever
my name is called, I’m gonna be ready. “

So what’s lacking on nights like Wednesday, when Williams
played for 10:41, went 0-for-4 from the floor and failed more than once to
finish at the rim?

“Just a rhythm,” Williams said. “I think any
basketball player will tell you that, just playing with a rhythm and having
some confidence.”

And that’s difficult to establish when you miss one game
with back spasms and aren’t worked into the rotation during three others. On
the year, Williams is 16-for-45 (35.6 percent) with 5.3 points and 2.1 rebounds
per game.

So far, he’s behind Cunningham as a backup four and hasn’t
been nearly as reliable as Hummel at the three. When Adelman did play Williams
on Wednesday, it was alongside those two in one of the smallest lineups the
coach has deployed all year.

Last year was simpler. Then, with Love out for all but 18
games, Adelman had no choice but to stick Williams in at power forward
frequently. The Arizona product responded, scoring 12 points per game and
appearing more at ease with his shot.

Now, he remains the subject of longstanding trade-talk
fodder as he’s become lost in the shuffle, much like his rookie year in
2011-12.

“I’m just playing the people I think can win
games,” Adelman said before Wednesday’s game. “Derrick’s gonna get
his opportunity; he just has to stay ready. It’s very difficult. He started
last year at the power forward and now he’s not starting there, because Kevin
Love’s back. It’s just circumstances, but it’s 12 games into the season and
it’s not about anything.

“As a coach, you’re just trying to find the right
people to win games.”

Back in black: Kevin Garnett returns Friday to the Target
Center for the seventh time in his career, but this time, he’ll be dressed in
Brooklyn Nets black rather than Celtics green.

The former face of the Timberwolves franchise is 7-0 against
it since he was traded away in the summer of 2007. All those victories, though,
came while he was playing for Boston.

The Celtics traded Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to
Mikhail Prokhorov’s luxury-tax-defying talent hoard this offseason. As of yet,
its $101.3 million payroll has yet to pay on-court dividends; the Nets enter
Friday’s matchup with the second-worst record (3-8) in the East.

Garnett, now 37, is off to a similarly slow start. He’s
averaging 22.7 minutes, 6.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting
34.1 percent from the floor.

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