Timberwolves host Raptors as life without LaVine continues

MINNEAPOLIS — Things were already starting to take a turn for the worse for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Then Zach LaVine went down with a season-ending injury.

LaVine, Minnesota’s second-leading scorer, tore the ACL in his left knee during Friday’s game against Detroit. Now Minnesota must learn how to play without one of its top players for the remainder of the season, which continues Wednesday against the Toronto Raptors.

In their first game without the much-improved LaVine, the Timberwolves (19-33) struggled against Miami before eventually losing 115-113. The loss of LaVine puts a damper in the Wolves’ faint playoff hopes.

Tom Thibodeau, in his first year as Minnesota’s coach, had some strong words to say about his team following Monday’s loss to the Heat — a game in which the Wolves surrendered 115 points.

“Our starters have to lead. They can’t be one-side players,” Thibodeau said. “This isn’t football where you have an offense and a defense. You have to play both sides of the ball and you have to play it well and you have to play it unselfishly and you have to play it together and you have to have the discipline to do it over and over and over again.”

The Timberwolves are reportedly signing veteran shooting guard Lance Stephenson to a 10-day contract to fill some of the void left by LaVine’s injury. Stephenson played six games with the New Orleans Pelicans this year before getting waived in early November. In seven NBA seasons, Stephenson averaged 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds.

Minnesota’s next challenge comes against a Raptors squad fighting for one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference. Toronto, which began the year 22-8, came back to earth a bit after a recent stretch that saw the Raptors lose eight of 10 games.

But Toronto enters Wednesday’s matchup having won two straight games on back-to-back nights against the Nets and Clippers.

The Raptors (32-21) are one of the highest-scoring teams in the NBA, and that was certainly the case in their first meeting with the Timberwolves. Toronto topped Minnesota 124-110 in early December when the two teams met in Toronto.

Raptors guard Kyle Lowry is coming off a record-setting performance Monday against Los Angeles. Lowry made five 3-pointers in the win, becoming Toronto’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made with 804. Morris Peterson previously held the record with 801.

DeMar DeRozan also returned to the Toronto lineup in Monday’s victory after missing four games with an ankle injury. While DeRozan is back, it remains to be seen if Patrick Patterson (knee) will be ready to play Wednesday.

“Sitting out, you kind of regain a certain hunger that you could lose track of when you’re out there playing,” DeRozan told the Toronto Star. “It gives you that hunger all over again to get back out there, to do what you were doing, but even at a higher level.”

Minnesota has to stop DeRozan, Lowry and Co. if it hopes to snap its four-game losing streak.

“We just need to play defense,” Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins said. “That’s what it comes down to.”