Tired Timberwolves fall back to .500
MINNEAPOLIS — When data from the Timberwolves’ 2013-14 season gets punched into the game program, certain metrics will stick out like a chuckhole on Hennepin Avenue.
Twelve losses by four points or fewer. Four wins in 19 tries on the second day of back-to-backs. A near league-worst opponent field-goal percentage of 47.
But after Minnesota’s 102-87 loss to Chicago on Wednesday night at the Target Center, there’s only one numerical truth that need be remembered: 23 times, the Timberwolves (39-39) have been .500.
They fizzled out in the second half and now have sported an even record nearly two dozen times. Even with the season’s outcome already decided, they continue to exhibit they’re neither transcendent, nor horrendous.
Just smack-dab in the middle.
"We’ve been around .500," coach Rick Adelman said. "That’s kind of been where we are, and that’s how we’ve played. We’re hoping that we can win some down the stretch here, maybe inch over it. I don’t know."
This time, a severe second-half dropoff kept shorthanded Minnesota from achieving its first 40-win season since 2004-05 and allowed Chicago (46-32) to stay in the Eastern Conference’s fourth spot with a chance of moving into third before the season ends. The Timberwolves knew weeks ago they’d attain no such merit, extending the league’s longest active playoff drought to 10 years.
A decade of futility, capped by a campaign of pure mediocrity.
Through a half, Minnesota was in prime position to knock off its third fourth-or-better postseason seed in the past week. Led by Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio’s 25 combined points, the Timberwolves shot 52.6 percent and led 53-48 at the break.
But the fatigue born from a spirited victory over league leader San Antonio the night before got to them in the second half, both players admitted.
Chicago went up 71-62 thanks to a 12-2 run capped by Joakim Noah’s crossover drive-and-layup against Love and never trailed again.
"I felt like we played well in that first half, but they’re a very good team," said Love, who hyperextended his elbow in the first quarter but returned shortly after. "They’re known for their defense, they have a bunch of good players, and they’re well-coached. I think it was definitely a lot of that."
Said Rubio: "The second half, we didn’t have the energy enough. . . . Maybe we were tired at the end."
The Bulls outscored Minnesota 27-17 in each of the final two quarters. After allowing the Timberwolves a bevy of early open looks, the NBA’s top defense held them to 33.3 percent shooting after the break.
Love scored 17 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, and Rubio finished with 15 points and six assists. But the pair missed a combined 22 of 34 attempts.
The depleted lineup behind them — missing Nikola Pekovic (sore right ankle), Kevin Martin (sore right heel), Chase Budinger (sprained right ankle), Shabazz Muhammad (sprained right MCL) and J.J. Barea (back spams, sore neck) — couldn’t muster enough support. Nor could they stop Noah or D.J. Augustin, who came off the bench to hit 4 of 7 3-point attempts and lead all scorers with 21 points.
The Bulls went 11-for-21 from 3-point range. Minnesota shot 4-for-17 from distance.
"They’ve got guys that execute really well, and they’ve got guys who can shoot the ball," Adelman said. "It looked like we ran out of gas in the second half."
And so went another deflating defeat following a vindicating victory. Friday, the Timberwolves outlasted two-time defending champion Miami but fell flat the next day at Orlando, also due to fatigue and attrition.
The big picture already has been painted. Revamped scoring, an All-Star starter in Love and improved health from last season haven’t been enough to push this organization back to respectability.
Yet its status as a middle-of-the-road group continues to be solidified.
"We’re trying to bring it every night," Rubio said, "but it’s hard."
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