NEWARK, N.J. - If ever there was a loss this season that was, well, so Timberwolfish, Tuesday night's 107-105 defeat at New Jersey was it.
Trailing by 13 points with fewer than nine minutes remaining and by five with 71 seconds left, the Wolves perfectly positioned themselves to end a 10-game losing streak and then watched it all slip away.
Literally, they did.
Down 104-103 with 25 seconds left, Wolves forward Anthony Randolph stole an inbounds pass and had 60 feet between him, the basket and a go-ahead slam dunk or layup that would have given the Wolves a lead for the first time since the game's opening minutes.
He never got there.
Instead, with big Brook Lopez closing hard from behind, Randolph lost the ball out of bounds before he could go up for a shot.
And even though the Wolves tied the score on a Michael Beasley shot only to lose when unstoppable Deron Williams answered with the winner with 1.7 seconds left, Randolph's breakaway slam that never was remained the night's defining, symbolic moment.
"That kind of sums up our season, honestly," said Beasley, who missed a contested game-tying shot at the final buzzer. "We could have won it with a fast break and just turned it over. That's kind of how it has been all year."
Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver emphasized that "one play didn't lose the game, we had 10 different plays, 15 maybe, that could have been the difference."
But he did say a play in which Randolph lost the ball and Lopez lost his size 20 sneaker trying to chase Randolph down "sums up" the team's season.
"Man, that was just one of those plays, one of those fluke things that never really happens," Randolph said. "So you just got to move on from it and try not to let that happen again."
Asked if Lopez got close enough to touch him or the ball, Randolph said, "Like I said, I don't want to think about it. That play's over. It won't happen again."
Somebody asked Lopez about the play afterward.
"I'd like to claim I did something," he said, "but I don't know."
The Wolves, playing without starting big men Kevin Love and Darko Milicic, got themselves back in the game by limiting Lopez to 10 second-half points after he scored 20 before halftime and by outscoring the Nets 30-22 in the fourth quarter.
"We showed character, we showed fight, we showed pride to get back into the game and we gave ourselves a chance to win," said Beasley, who approached a triple-double with a 20-point, 11-rebound, seven-assist night.
Ultimately, the Nets prevailed because of Williams' performance that included 18 points and 21 assists, which tied his career high. Not only did he hit the step-back winning shot, he also made a big shot with 1:25 left with Luke Ridnour stretched all over him.
"A guy like that, he has the ball so much, he gets into such a great rhythm because there's so many pick-and-rolls," Ridnour said. "It's tough to stop someone like that."
Williams' night also maybe says something about the Wolves' timing: He suggested Tuesday's game might be his last this season because of a hand/wrist injury that is sending him to see a specialist. He missed six games recently because of a strained tendon.
"The difference is very obvious between when he plays and when he doesn't," Lopez said. "I'm not that much a believer in numbers, but those numbers tonight, it's tough to argue against those."
Especially when they allowed the Nets to end a six-game losing streak and keep the Wolves on theirs with only four games left this season.
"We can't go out on all losses," Tolliver said. "We definitely have to get a couple more wins, hopefully."Notes
• The Nets played without starting power forward Kris Humphries, the former Gopher who could miss the rest of the season because of a sprained ankle.
• Looks like Timberwolves assistant coach Reggie Theus is scheduled to interview Thursday in Las Vegas for UNLV's head coaching job.