The way things are going, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and his players won’t have to wait 20 games until the season’s conclusion to know whether they are anything more than a team that loses one for every game that it wins.
That answer it being determined nightly. The latest answer, Sunday night’s 111-104 loss to Toronto, silenced the team’s dressing room afterward.
The Wolves have lost two of their past three games at home to Eastern Conference opponents, after returning to Target Center from the season’s longest road trip having won six of seven games.
On Sunday, the Wolves fell back to .500, at 31-31. They remain five games out of the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot with 20 games to play.
“There’s 20 games left, anything can happen,” Wolves star Kevin Love said. “We obviously have to go on some sort of run. If those other teams keep winning and keep pulling games out of their you-know-what, we’re in trouble. We need to have a little bit of luck, too.”
On Wednesday, after the Wolves lost at home to a New York team that had lost seven consecutive games and 10 of its previous 11, Love and others in their locker room mentioned lingering road-trip fatigue as a probable reason why.
On Sunday, they lost to a Raptors team that is 28-13 and holding off the surging Chicago Bulls for third place in the East, on the heels of a December trade that dealt star Rudy Gay to Sacramento for four role players who have transformed the team’s bench.
One of those players — power forward Patrick Patterson — didn’t play Sunday because of an elbow injury, so Toronto simply plugged in veteran Steve Novak, who made five of his team’s 14 three-pointers and scored 15 points in 20 minutes off the bench after he had played only 27 seconds in the two games before that.
This time, the Wolves simply were beaten by an opponent that has a better backcourt, plays better defense, has better depth … is just plain better.
“It’s a game we just didn’t do enough to win,” Adelman said.
Love set a franchise record for three-pointers made in a season by making four Sunday, surpassing by one Rashad McCants’ previous mark of 142, set during the 2007-08 season. Love also approached his second career triple-double before third quarter’s end, but he never got that 10th assist in the fourth quarter and finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, numbers that didn’t counter Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry’s 20-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist triple-double.
Nor was it enough to offset Toronto shooting guard DeMar DeRozan’s 25 points, which included 10 fourth-quarter points and the closing punctuation on a three-pointer with 69 seconds left. He turned and taunted the Wolves bench after he made the shot that ended a 10-3 run and restored the visitors’ advantage to double digits.
The Wolves had pulled within a basket with five minutes left.
“This is their team,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said of his starting backcourt. “Down the stretch they really turned it on.”
Down the stretch, the Wolves couldn’t convert enough around the rim, as they hadn’t all night, while the Raptors continued to make three-pointers. Four of their 14 threes came in the final quarter.
The Wolves end their four-game homestand against Eastern Conference opponents by playing NBA-worst Milwaukee on Tuesday, with the season and any distant playoff hopes disappearing from sight.
“We just have to do it better,” Adelman said. “We can’t hang our heads. It’s a good team that we played … We got beat. We’ve got to turn it around and come back Tuesday and get a win.”