Wolves’ roller-coaster ride continues with rout of Charlotte
MINNEAPOLIS — The pattern prevails.
Crushed. Questioned. Come back.
The spirit-sapping defeats stick out. But the Timberwolves haven’t allowed them to spiral into any sustained run of futility. Yet.
Nor have they bounced back from them with enough longevity to turn January into a season-turning juncture. Yet.
So after yet another insides-churning setback followed by a convincing, aesthetically pleasing and moxie-boosting victory, Minnesota is at the crossroads once again.
At some point in the NBA season, teams either wilt or rise.
"We keep going back and forth," coach Rick Adelman said. "Somehow, we’ve got to get a couple wins in a row."
Friday night’s 119-92 drubbing of a hapless Charlotte squad from a downtrodden Eastern Conference is the latest potential streak-starter.
A hot start from Kevin Martin, a superb second-quarter bench effort and a Nikola Pekovic onslaught in the third allowed the Timberwolves (18-18) to cruise to their sixth straight win coming off a loss by four or fewer points. They also earned their league-leading eighth win by 20 or more points.
"That makes me feel better," Adelman said with a rare smile.
Either dominate or disintegrate — that’s the 2013-14 Minnesota Timberwolves to date.
They haven’t won back-to-back games since Dec. 27 and 28 and are 0-10 in outcomes with a final margin of fewer than five points. Yet they’re 8-2 coming off said heartbreakers.
Bounce-back matchups with lower-tier teams like Charlotte, Cleveland, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and New Orleans have helped.
But there’s at least a trace of resilience present following close losses, in this case Wednesday’s 104-103 defeat against Phoenix that caused Love to chastise J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham for sulking on the bench.
Now Minnesota needs a dose of accompanying constancy.
"We lose the game, like, by two or we win the game by 20," said Pekovic, who finished with 15 points in the third period Friday and 26 in the contest. "I just hope in the future, we win some of these close games."
Said Love, who had 18 points and 14 rebounds for his NBA-best 31st double-double: "It’s like polar-opposite there. I wish we could meet somewhere in the middle."
Martin shot 5 for 5 in the first en route to 10 of his 19 points. A revamped second unit featuring recently healed Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf and bench staples Barea, Cunningham and Alexey Shved opened the second on a 16-6 jaunt.
Even with a team-best 21 points on 5-of-5 3-point shooting from former Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver, Charlotte could only stay with Minnesota for a quarter. Another one-time Timberwolves player by the name of Al Jefferson struggled mightily against Pekovic — to the tune of eight points and seven rebounds — and the Bobcats (15-22) lost for a seventh time in eight outings.
The Timberwolves exterminated the East’s No. 7 team in 1 hour, 56 minutes. A meager crowd of 13,767 witnessed the shortest game at the Target Center in just less than a decade.
Minnesota moved the ball much to Adelman’s liking, too. Led by Cunningham and Ricky Rubio with six apiece, five separate players had four or more assists.
But this was merely one night.
"They want to be a good team," Adelman said. "But they have to find out how you’re gonna do that.
"We have to change our ways."
Indeed, a perceivably easier recent schedule stretch that had Love, Adelman and the rest of the Timberwolves — currently 2 ½ games out of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot — eyeing a surge hasn’t borne enough fruit.
"I think we have been saying that since two weeks ago or a month ago, looking at the schedule, ‘OK, it’s been tough; now it’s time,’" Rubio said. "We didn’t do it."
There’s still time. For now.
Minnesota has a road tilt Sunday with West frontrunner San Antonio then hosts Sacramento, travels to Toronto and plays a two-game set with Utah. Those latter two foes are a combined 24 games below .500.
Then the slate heats up again with a three-game road swing featuring Golden State, Portland and Chicago in a four-day span.
At present, the Timberwolves can plan on attacking it close to full capacity. The return of Luc Mbah a Moute — missed three games with a strained groin — Friday gave Adelman a completely active roster for the first time since March 3, 2012.
"This is it," said Barea, who scored seven of the bench’s 43 points (some of them came in fourth-quarter garbage time). "At some point here, we’ve got to make a run."
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