Minneapolis — This long season has mercifully come to an end for the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Pistons head into the offseason looking to return to their winning ways.
The Timberwolves are playing just like they did in the old days. Unfortunately for them, that is not a good thing.
Charlie Villanueva scored 13 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter on Wednesday night to rally the Pistons to a 103-98 victory over Minnesota, which tied a franchise record for fewest victories in a season.
“It’s never a good feeling to lose and we’ve been losing all season,” said Wolves guard Corey Brewer, who scored 27 points. “There’s been a lot of bad feelings. We can only look forward to the future.”
Tayshaun Prince added 20 points for the Pistons, who trailed by 16 points in the third quarter. With Ben Gordon, Richard Hamilton, Rodney Stuckey and Chris Wilcox not in uniform, Villanueva hit three 3-pointers and five free throws in the final period to end a tough season on a good note.
“This is Detroit basketball. This is an organization that’s used to going to the playoffs and going to the Finals,” Villanueva said. “I know it’s going to get back to what Detroit basketball needs to be.”
The Timberwolves (15-67) are right back where they started as a franchise 21 years ago. Al Jefferson had 16 points and 11 rebounds but the Wolves lost 29 of their final 31 games to tie the dubious record set in 1991-92, their third season in existence.
“The record doesn’t mean anything to me,” coach Kurt Rambis said. “Even if we’d won five, six, eight more games, what does that change?”
Their final defeat was a snap shot the Wolves’ season. Playing with energy, they raced out to a 16-point lead by sharing the basketball and dominating the glass. But they went 6:13 without a field goal in the fourth quarter to give away another one.
The Pistons (27-55) have nothing to brag about, either. They missed playoffs for the first time in nine years and haven’t lost this many games since 1993-94 when they went 20-62.
Add the win totals together for the two teams, and it still wouldn’t be enough to qualify for the Western Conference playoffs.
“I told the team, ‘Don’t be accustomed to finishing playing basketball at the end of April,'” coach John Kuester said. “We are accustomed — because I was here in ’04 when we won the championship — to playing to June. That was the whole goal, the whole purpose was to play in June. Unfortunately we had so many things happen to us that that didn’t occur.”
The Pistons were ravaged by injuries all season long, with players missing a combined 152 games due to injury entering their final game of the season. Hamilton, Gordon, Will Bynum and Wilcox have all had extended absences this year.
Prince kept the Pistons in this one, scoring 18 points in the first half. But he didn’t get a whole lot of help early, especially on the defensive end.
With Kevin Love firing outlet passes from beneath his own basket, the Timberwolves got out in transition faster than they have all season long. Brewer had three dunks, including a double-clutch reverse for a 51-38 lead in the second quarter.
The Timberwolves shot 66 percent in the first half and had 20 assists on 25 made field goals, but all that efficiency went up in smoke in the fourth quarter.
Love did not play in the final period, and the Wolves faded again when another team made their run. Rambis said he didn’t like Love’s effort level in the third period, so he sat him down.
“I will accept any player playing poorly as long I see him playing hard,” Rambis said. “I understand you can’t play well all the time, but there just should not be an excuse for why you’re not playing hard out there. Could have used him, too.”
Notes: Detroit’s Ben Wallace tried his second 3-pointer of the season in the third quarter and it wasn’t pretty. Air ball. … The plan is for Jonny Flynn and Ramon Sessions to remain in the Twin Cities for the next few days to work with Rambis on their jump shots. Rambis said he didn’t want to tweak anything during the season and get them out of their comfort zones. … Brewer played in all 82 games this season, the first time he’s done that in his career.