Before the game Saturday night, while extolling the virtues of Robbie Hummel’s value off the bench, Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders talked about his professionalism, his smarts, his basketball IQ. About how, on a team filled with youth and inexperience, his basketball IQ shines, no matter what he’s asked to do, or where he’s asked to play.
After his Wolves had lost, yet again, this time 108-93 to the San Antonio Spurs at Target Center, Saunders talked about how hard it was to play the defending champions.
“San Antonio’s whole team, that’s how they are,” Saunders said. “Those guys have been around a long time.”
With Manu Ginobili and Marco Belinelli both on the bench because of injuries, the Spurs (23-15) still were a deep, consistent, efficient team. Six players scored in double figures — including Austin Daye, who scored a season-high 22 points — as San Antonio took control of the game early and cruised to the finish against a Wolves team that lost yet again.
And now it is 15.
The young Wolves (5-31) tacked another game onto their losing streak, their 15th, already the third-longest streak in franchise history. And it doesn’t get any easier for the Wolves, who head for a four-game road trip starting Tuesday at Indiana. The franchise record streak of 18, reached in December 2011, continues to loom.
As has become standard, there were some bright spots for the Wolves, who got yet another double-double from center Gorgui Dieng, 19 points off the bench from Zach LaVine and 10 points from Mo Williams, who shook off the pain of a turned ankle to play. Andrew Wiggins scored 18 points, coming two points shy of his seventh game with 20 or more.
But there also were the stretches during which the Wolves struggled, mightily, against the veteran Spurs.
Like in the first quarter, when an 11-0 run erased a two-point Wolves lead.
Or in the second quarter when, after LaVine had led the Wolves back within four, the Spurs calmly scored 20 of the next 24 points.
Or, late, when the Wolves pulled within nine, only to have San Antonio counter with eight in a row.
The Spurs were calm, efficient, productive from three-point range (9-for-24). San Antonio shot better than 52 percent through three quarters before Spurs coach Gregg Popovich went to the bench in the fourth.
“They’re hard to guard,” Saunders said. “They know how to play. They know where they’ll be, they have the ability to stretch the floor with three-point shooting. We weren’t defending, we were chasing the first three quarters.”
With so many players still out injured — Shabazz Muhammad joined the list Saturday because of an abdominal injury — the Wolves are chasing history. And not the good kind.
“They’ve been resilient,” Saunders said. “They come in every day ready to work. But I don’t want ’em to accept it.’’
To make sure, Saunders plans on having the rookies and second-year players come in Sunday for a practice, a rarity after back-to-back games.
The work has to continue. After the game Dieng sounded like a fellow tired of losing.
“We have to start taking it personal,” he said. “Everyone needs to take it more personal, and do the right thing to win. Because we need to win. Right now. There are no more rookies, we’ve played 36 games already. We need to find a way to win.”
Saturday they got a look, firsthand, on just how to do that.
“Look at what they’ve done,” Hummel said of the Spurs, “the way they play. They’re so good at moving the ball and cutting, and they just play. Honestly, if you want to see team basketball and you want to see the epitome of how you should play in the NBA, look at the Spurs.”