Wolves not taking advantage of charity
MINNEAPOLIS — After Andrew Wiggins’ spinning, driving layup and a Thaddeus Young steal gave the Timberwolves a crack at their first lead of 2015, a Target Center crowd of 13,337 rose to its feet.
Young then drew a foul, stepping to the line for the least contested of chances. His first free-throw attempt fell through, but the second clanged off the rim.
Former Wolves forward Derrick Williams, traded a year ago after failing to live up to his billing as a No. 2 overall pick here, hit a 3 at the other end to put the Kings ahead for good.
Forty seconds later, Minnesota big man Gorgui Dieng stepped to the line with a chance to bring the Wolves back within one. Clang. His second foul shot fell through, but Sacramento scored at the other end to take a 106-102 lead with 1:47 left.
In between, Dieng dropped in a gritty layup and got volatile Kings center DeMarcus Cousins to foul out in the process. But the second-year center missed the ensuing free throw.
Futile charity-stripe work wasn’t the only deciding factor in a 110-107 loss on New Year’s Day — allowing Sacramento to shoot 77.8 percent in the first quarter and 64.9 percent in the first half was an important piece as well. But the Wolves continue to plague a team that’s dropped 10 straight and pines for some semblance of positivity as it plummets further into the Western Conference cellar.
"We’ve been so close, and yet we just can’t get up over the hump," Saunders said. "You want to be able to do it, and you do have a tendency to tighten up."
That’s happened far too often.
Even before Thursday’s defeat, Minnesota (5-26) is tied for 26th in the NBA in clutch-situation free-throw shooting — attempts from the stripe occurring in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the game within six points. The Wolves are shooting just 73.3 percent in such scenarios and 72.2 percent in the final quarter of games they either lead or trail by four or fewer points.
Thursday, they went 2-for-5 in the final 4 minutes, 9 seconds. Tuesday at Utah, Young missed a pair of free throws that would’ve given Minnesota the lead with 2:12 to go.
"Sometimes when you have bad breaks," forward Shabazz Muhammad said,"three or two points really matters in that game."
Mo Williams is the club’s best active free-throw shooter at 82.9 percent. Rookie Zach LaVine is shooting 81.8. But behind him, there aren’t many go-to free-throw shooters.
Young in particular has been well below par. A 69.1 percent career foul shooter, he’s making just 54.7 percent of his attempts so far this year.
"I’m very hard on myself at all times," Young said. "You’ve got to knock those down. They’re rather easy shots that I usually make some."
The Wolves went 16-for-22 (72.7 percent) from the line Thursday — right in line with their 72 percent season mark, the league’s fourth worst.
With their freebie struggles compounding the issue, Minnesota now has lost all six of its games decided by four points or fewer.
"I feel like once we close out our next game," said rookie Andrew Wiggins, who scored a game-high 27 points Thursday, "it’ll really open a door for us."
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