Timberwolves can’t afford to overlook Hawks
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves had a big opportunity to boost their postseason chances returning home against two of the worst teams in the NBA.
After Monday's unexpected loss to Memphis, Minnesota hosts the Atlanta Hawks (21-53) on Wednesday.
The Timberwolves, in eighth place in the West at 42-33, will have a chance to see if they learned not to overlook their opponent and try to gain separation on ninth-place Denver, which lost at Toronto on Tuesday.
"For us, there can't be a hangover," Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said after Monday's loss. "Tomorrow we have to take a hard look at the film, correct some things and get ready for the next one. You have to play them all. They're all equally important, so I want them looking back. I want us to learn exactly what happened and be ready for Atlanta.
"That's the only way we can approach it. We have to keep pushing forward. For some guys, this is a new experience. This is about your will. You can't approach it without knowing what you have to put into it."
Thibodeau said Monday's loss was "hard to explain." He said his team didn't match Memphis' physicality. He was also asked if his team pressed as the Grizzlies opened up the lead in the fourth quarter as the Wolves only scored 11 points.
Thibodeau spoke of the toughness needed to overcome the challenge.
"It's a hard-fought game going back and forth," Thibodeau said. "You have to have the resiliency and the toughness, the mental toughness, to get through that. That's part of it. Not every game's going to be free and easy."
On paper, easy would seem to be the case against Atlanta, which has lost nine of its past 10 games. But Memphis entered the game having lost 23 of 24.
The Hawks, who have sunk to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, lost 118-99 at Houston. Taurean Prince scored 28 points and Isaiah Taylor added 26.
Minnesota, however, lost the first meeting between the two teams in Atlanta, 105-100, on Jan. 29, and that was with Jimmy Butler. The All-Star guard won't be available Wednesday as he continues to recovery from knee surgery. Minnesota is 6-7 since losing Butler.
"That's what Jimmy brings," Thibodeau said about the team's toughness. "I thought Taj (Gibson) and Jeff (Teague) were terrific. They gave us a lot of fight. But, we need everyone. When you're short-handed the way we are, you need toughness. You need toughness. You need skill and you need fight."
Gibson downplayed the lack of toughness.
"If you're playing in this league and you've got 40- some wins, you're a tough team," Gibson said. "It's nothing about grit, nothing about physicality. It just comes down to misses and strong rebounds and knowing your coverages."
Atlanta was also at full strength in the first game against the Wolves. Now swingman Kent Bazemore is out the rest of the season, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli were waived and point guard Dennis Schroder missed the last game with an ankle injury.
Schroder is also dealing with an off-the-court issue.
His misdemeanor case has been transferred to the DeKalb County District Attorney's office and recommended to be prosecuted as felony aggravated battery, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The case stems from an incident on Sept. 29 regarding a fight in a shopping center, according to the Journal-Constitution. The Hawks said Schroder would be disciplined by the team once the court case is resolved.
"That behavior is unacceptable, will not be tolerated by the Hawks organization, and will result in discipline for Dennis at the appropriate time once the matter has been more fully developed through the law enforcement process and otherwise," Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk said in the statement released in October, according to the paper. "Dennis has accepted responsibility for his actions. He looks forward to learning from this incident and focusing on the season."