Wolves look listless in setback at Toronto

On Friday the Timberwolves (18-21) dropped their fourth game in six outings and fell three games below .500 for the first time this season.

Tom Szczerbowski/Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

A laundry list of obstacles plagues the Timberwolves at the moment.

Friday night was a bad time to run into yet another one.

The north-of-the-border hex against Minnesota’s floundering NBA team persisted in a 94-89 defeat to Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. The Timberwolves (18-21) dropped their fourth game in six outings and fell three games below .500 for the first time this season.

Thanks to a huge night from Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and continued lethargy from a Minnesota bunch that’s yet to mount a significant string of victories, Toronto (20-18) beat the Timberwolves a 10th straight time in Canada and improved to 16-3 against them all-time.

The last time Minnesota knocked off the Raptors on the road, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell were on the roster. George W. Bush was president.

Add that history to a fragile team psyche, bottom-feeding defense and a January that’s gone anything but according to plan, and the season has made another move on the wrong trajectory.

Raptors 94, Wolves 89

No matter how positive coach Rick Adelman strives to stay.

"You can’t look at it that way," he said when asked if the campaign is beginning to slip away. "You’ve got to keep playing.

"You can’t think that way."

Eight times in the second half Friday, the Timberwolves closed within a possession of tying or taking the lead. Eight times, surging Toronto — now 13-6 since dealing Rudy Gay in a trade to Sacramento and third in the Eastern Conference standings — ground its foot further into Minnesota’s throat.

Lowry provided the final stamp, drilling the last of his six 3-pointers to give the Raptors a 90-83 lead with 14.9 seconds left. He finished with a game-high 24 points on 7 of 12 shooting and nailed another big 3 that gave Toronto its largest lead, 67-53, late in the third quarter.

No Timberwolves player went over 20 points, and Minnesota made just 3 of 18 3s. Kevin Martin scored 18 and J.J. Barea helmed a solid second-half bench effort, but Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic both struggled to establish themselves in the paint as both have often this season.

Adelman played Barea rather than Ricky Rubio — 2-for-6 from the floor for six points and four assists — for the entire fourth quarter, drawing further questions about his starting point guard’s ability to be a difference-maker late.

"I went with guys that I thought could win the game for us," Adelman said, "and we almost did. It just wasn’t enough."

The Raptors never trailed.

Two days after lamenting an early lack of energy in a loss to Sacramento, Minnesota came out and scored a season-low 15 first-quarter points Friday. Only in the second half when Barea, Ronny Turiaf and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute — who left with an eye injury late in the fourth — entered did the Timberwolves exhibit the vitality they said wasn’t in enough abundance earlier in the week.

Even third-string point man A.J. Price received some fourth-quarter minutes.

A 9-2 run brought Minnesota within 75-72 midway through the final frame. A Martin 3 made it 85-83 with 1:27 left.

But Barea’s triple attempt on the Timberwolves’ next possession barely drew rim. Much like Gay did Wednesday in Minneapolis, Lowry then chipped in the final backbreaker to hand Minnesota its third straight loss.

When Lowry’s last shot went down, faces grew somber and tight-lipped up and down the visitors’ bench. It’s another test for this team’s chemistry, which has already been called into question with Love publicly calling out some of his teammates on two separate occasions.

Minnesota fell to 2-12 in games decided by five points or fewer and 3-5 in the month of January.

The Timberwolves return home Saturday for the first of two contests in three days against the Utah Jazz.

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