Minnesota Timberwolves (from left: Kevin Martin, Dante Cunningham, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love) watch from the bench in the second half. The Kings won 111-108. Love led the Timberwolves with 27 points and 11 rebounds.
Jim Mone/Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — The face of the Timberwolves franchise and an increasingly growing brand, Kevin Love already has enough endorsements under his belt.
But if any ad manager from the caffeine industry was listening Wednesday, his or her beverage company may be in the running for a new spokesman after what’s transpired during an increasingly perplexing 2013-14 campaign.
"I can’t tell you," Kevin Love said. "I don’t know if we all need to take different energy shots or Red Bull or what else I can plug."
Love, coach Rick Adelman and the rest of this middling franchise continue to cite a lack of vitality when it comes to a growing heap of close losses and home letdowns. There was very little present until it was too late Wednesday night in a loss to one of the West’s most lowly organizations, and it’s been in short supply as Minnesota continues to miss out on a season-defining run.
After a 111-108 loss to Sacramento — the Timberwolves’ eighth home setback and fourth in their past six Target Center outings — the power supply is moving toward critical levels.
In Adelman’s eyes, it’s already been there. Minnesota (18-20 overall) is now 3-4 in the month of January, when it was thought the Timberwolves’ dip in schedule toughness could produce a string of victories that vaults them into postseason contention.
Instead, the postgame laments about failing in the game’s mental aspects and not enough energy continue to emanate from the Target Center’s home dressing room. And the Timberwolves are four games out of a playoff spot.
"I don’t know who we think we are," Adelman said.
"I think since Christmas, it’s been critical. We haven’t done the job."
To the grizzly veteran head man’s point, teams like the Kings (14-23 and third-to-last in the Western Conference standings) continue to give Minnesota fits in games in which it’s expected to cruise.
Adelman says his players aren’t passing over inferior opponents. They just aren’t coming out with enough kinetic oomph.
"Don’t say that," Adelman chirped when a reporter brought up the word "overlooked" during the coach’s postgame press conference. "Why are we overlooking anybody? We’re under .500 . . . What would give us the right to overlook them? To me, that’s not even an excuse. If they are, then there’s something wrong."
The Kings played Tuesday night in Indiana. The Timberwolves had a two-day layoff between games.
Inexcusable, point guard J.J. Barea said.
"We can’t come out of a game after two days off and just be flat like that," Barea said. "Us players, we’ve got to take the responsibility for that."
In front of 12,399 subdued spectators Wednesday, Sacramento closed the second quarter on a 20-7 run to take an 11-point lead into the break and extend it to 14 early in the fourth quarter. By the time Minnesota awakened enough to make a game of it against a rebuilding squad with a first-year coach, the damage had been done.
Adelman even mockingly scorned Love’s two 3s inside the final 40 seconds that each brought the Timberwolves within two points. All they ended up doing was ensuring Minnesota moved to 0-11 in games decided by four points or less.
The last time it triumphed in one of those was St. Patrick’s Day 2013.
"We should’ve stayed away from the 3s and so it would’ve been like eight," Adelman quipped in reference to the final losing margin.
Rudy Gay torched the Timberwolves with a season-high 33 points on 12 of 19 shooting and connected on all three of his 3-point attempts, including a top-of-the-key dagger that made it 107-102 with 19.5 seconds left. Love scored the final trio of his 27 points on Minnesota’s next possession via a triple of his own, but DeMarcus Cousins made it a two-possession game at the free-throw line, J.J. Barea’s 3-point play cut the deficit to one again, Isaiah Thomas hit another pair of free throws, and Barea’s last-second heave fell way short.
So did the Timberwolves’ effort to involve streaking center Nikola Pekovic, who came in averaging 22.9 points on 55.3 percent shooting and 10.3 rebounds over his previous 12 games. Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins, one of few human beings capable of physically bullying the 6-foot-11, 285-pound Pekovic, frequently pushed him several feet outside the paint and limited him to 14 points, 5 of 12 on field goals and eight rebounds.
Cousins himself scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half and tied Love for the game lead with 11 boards.
"Cousins is a load in there," said Love, who took a hip to the knee from Quincy Acy and spent the rest of the game hobbled, wincing during most breaks in the action. "He puts his body into you, and it’s tough to move. Very similar to Pek."
Also aided by 26 points from Thomas and 16 from former Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams, Sacramento shot 54.9 percent from the floor — second only to their victory over Miami Dec. 20.
Minnesota’s opponents are shooting 47.5 percent from the field, worst in the NBA.
"We’re so hands off defensively," Adelman said, "it almost takes an act of Congress for us to go out and foul somebody. You’ve got to get after people in this league."
The starting backcourt of Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin was awfully quiet. Neither saw the floor in the fourth quarter.
Rubio’s five turnovers matched his point total on the night, and Martin scored 14 points but needed 14 shots to do so. Barea (14 points) and Alexey Shved (13) played the entire fourth quarter, mounting an 8-0 run capped by Shved’s transition layup that made it 102-99 with 1:01 to go.
Minnesota’s late valiance was admirable. Their need for it is troubling, especially with only three games remaining before the season’s halfway point.
Without venturing into the realm of panic, Adelman said as much afterward.
"It’s not too late," Adelman said. "That’s the thing that these guys have to understand.
"It took us three, 3 1/2 quarters to get to where we had the energy to go out and challenge them. We’re not gonna win that way."
Said Love: "It’s not just one guy in particular. It’s all of us. We just need to find our way. . . . At some point, you need to start being about it.
"I can keep saying we’re better than our record indicates, but until we go out there and win games in a row and beat teams that we feel we’re supposed to beat, we won’t go anywhere."