Wolves miss opportunity to edge Warriors on rare off night
MINNEAPOLIS — Even before the Timberwolves fell 102-86 to the NBA’s most dangerous team at the moment, coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders likened his team’s plight to a game of Risk.
"I feel like I’m Macedonia with two people, and I’m surrounded by like 50 countries on each side," Saunders said, referencing the board game in which players take turns trying to occupy territory on a world map, with the results determined by dice rolls, "and I’ve got to roll straight 12s 49 straight times."
In a season where the breaks have gone against it, Minnesota was on the good side of fortune Monday night at the Target Center. But in front of a dead crowd of 10,296, the Wolves (4-16) didn’t parlay it into anything tangible.
"We had the luck with us tonight," small forward Corey Brewer said, "but couldn’t capitalize."
Boasting the league’s best record and a franchise-record win streak, Golden State came out flat and, by its own lofty standards, stayed that way most of the night. The NBA’s No. 2 3-point shooting team made a season-low five triples on 22 attempts, with sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combining for just four (three by Thompson).
Some were contested. Others weren’t.
"It was ugly," Thompson said. "This is the NBA, so you can’t sleep on anybody and we kind of did that in the first half. It was just dead in there. It wasn’t the brand of basketball that we play."
Even the scorching Warriors are comprised of human beings that have off nights. One of them, center Andrew Bogut, left with right knee irritation 2 1/2 minutes in and didn’t return.
A switch-on-everything defense flustered the Warriors (18-2) into an uncharacteristically average offensive performance. But the Wolves, losers of six in a row, edged their opponent in ineptitude.
With point guards Ricky Rubio (ankle) and Mo Williams (back) out again and Zach LaVine steering the ship, Minnesota turned the ball over 19 times. Its 32-for-89 shooting (36 percent) night nearly tied a season low set in last week’s detrimental defeat here against Philadelphia.
"We were tripping out there," said LaVine, who coughed up the ball six times and went 4-for-16 from the field. "We’ve got to take care of the ball; that’s our baby. You can’t be throwing your baby everywhere."
After hanging with Golden State for a half, the Wolves succumbed to a 13-5 run during the third quarter’s latter stages. Curry got hot in the frame, scoring nine of his 21 points and playing all 12 minutes.
By the end of the frame, the Warriors led 79-63. Minnesota never threatened in the fourth.
"I don’t know what happened," said Brewer, whose five first-half blocks equaled the most by any Timberwolves defender since 1999. "We looked up, we were down 20."
Thompson also had 21 points, the same total as rookie Andrew Wiggins, who responded from a rough night in Saturday at San Antonio to go 8-for-19 from the floor, 5-for-8 from the foul stripe and add six rebounds and four assists in the second-highest-scoring night of his career. Playing limited minutes due to a sore ankle, second-year forward Shabazz Muhammad had 14 points, and fellow 2013 draft pick Gorgui Dieng finished with six points, 11 rebounds, four assists and a pair of blocks.
Saunders has harped on his young core all season, especially with guys like LaVine and power forward Anthony Bennett playing larger than expected roles with Rubio, Williams, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Ronny Turiaf missing varied amounts of time.
But the veterans are becoming an issue, too, Saunders said, trying to do too much to fill in the voids.
"We’ve got guys that are totally playing out of character," Saunders said. "We need them to play more in character and slow us down. Young guys at times will make some mistakes, but overall, everybody’s got to be better. Me, the coaching staff, everybody."
That includes running the floor, Saunders said. This season’s Kevin Love trade and accompanying roster overhaul were aimed at creating a run-and-gun, transition-attacking team.
Through a month and change, the Wolves’ 16.6 fast-break points per game are fourth in the league. But the consistent push isn’t there, Saunders said, particularly from Brewer, Wiggins and fellow gunner Thaddeus Young.
"I feel like we trying to set up too much," Brewer said. "We try to play isolation basketball, but really, we’re not built like that. Let’s be honest; it’s not working for us so far. We’ve got to change something."
As evidenced by Golden State, which won a club record eighth consecutive road game, the schedule isn’t helping Minnesota any. The gauntlet continues Wednesday with a 7 p.m. tilt against Portland.
That completes a six-game stretch that includes matchups with the Western Conference’s top five teams at present.
"It is tough when you have to fill a lot of gaps," said Young, who scored 13 points and pulled down seven boards. "We’re a few guys down, but we’ve got to keep fighting."
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