Wolves can’t hide frustration after bitter loss to Phoenix
MINNEAPOLIS — Hands placed on heads, jerseys pulled over faces, eyes either wide in disbelief or narrowed in discontent.
Time, and patience, growing short for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Early in the year came optimism. Then a taxing schedule, injuries and early season lessons to be learned served as justification for a record that’s hovered near .500 for most of the season.
But it’s the second week of January. And days like Wednesday, players and coach concur, are no longer acceptable.
"It’s frustrating when that (happens) over and over and over again," point guard Ricky Rubio said after his team’s 104-103 loss to Phoenix. "We have to change something, because we can’t lose more games at the end like that."
Said a dumbfounded coach Rick Adelman: "Somehow, we’ve got to find a way to finish the game. We just haven’t done that."
And forward Kevin Love, who buried his face in his jersey following the final buzzer: "We can’t have any more of these. These are terrible."
"I wish I knew what happened at the end," Rubio said.
Love, whose organization is lobbying hard to see him voted in as an All-Star Game starter, put forth one of his worst showings of the year in front of a national ESPN audience and 12,202 in-person fans. He went 4-for-20 from the floor, scored 15 points and spent more time berating officials in the first half than he did trying to keep the pesky, surprising Suns (21-13) at bay.
Love, Pekovic and their comrades missed a bucketful of shots in close — 39.5 percent from the field — but used a Corey Brewer-fueled strong third quarter to regain the lead.
Then came the all-too-familiar sequence: a late mistake or two, a drawn-up play that went wanting, and a collective groan resounding in the Target Center when the final buzzer sounded.
Afterward, Adelman was either lost for words or showed enough self-control to remain tight-lipped and avoid sharing many.
"Guys have to make plays," the coach said. "I don’t know what else to say. We haven’t done that."
The Timberwolves were in control and let another one — see losses last week against Dallas and Oklahoma City as other recent examples — slip away. That’s the minutiae from Wednesday night, which featured a late 8:30 p.m. start due to ESPN’s telecast.
But the bigger picture is starting to look bleak.
Love called out some of his teammates via media session once again. Last week, it was the second unit for not scoring enough (spurred in part by the return of Chase Budinger from a knee injury Wednesday, it chipped in 29). Wednesday, it was a pair of reserves for moping on the sidelines during the contest’s latter stages.
"We can’t have two guys sitting at the end of the bench that played good minutes just sitting there and not getting up during timeouts," said Love, who added 12 rebounds for his league-leading 30th double-double of the season. "We all need to be in this together. That kind of pisses me off. We’re supposed to be a team."
Love didn’t mention any names, but J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham — both holdovers from last year — spent the game’s final moments fitting Love’s description of position and demeanor. Barea played 13 minutes and scored eight points, and Cunningham scored three points in 11 minutes.
"Everybody has to believe," said Rubio, who had eight assists and seven points. "You have to be with the team. I didn’t see that, but if (Love) says that, then he saw something. We’re gonna have to talk, because that’s even worse than losing a game, not having the team together. That’s terrible."
In addition to addressing chemistry, the Timberwolves might want to recall this was the season’s juncture that, in theory, set up for them to make a run. The January slate isn’t as painful as November and December were, featuring more manageable opponents — like the Suns — and fewer back-to-back games.
Budinger is back. So is Ronny Turiaf, who was hurt in the second game of the season and returned Monday. Depth is now less of a concern.
But Minnesota is 4-3 since a two-loss road trip to Los Angeles late last month and dropped to 10th place in the Western Conference standings Wednesday.
Not the stuff of season-defining streaks.
Neither is coughing up late leads.
"We can’t get over the hump," said Pekovic, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds on 6 of 16 shooting, the same field-goal mark as Martin. "We just need to stay together and keep fighting."
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