From left, the Wolves' Kevin Love, Wes Johnson and Luke Ridnour can barely watch the waning seconds of the 98-87 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday at Target Center.
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CLEVELAND 98, WOLVES 87
Up next: Noon Sunday at Washington FSN
Wolves kill their own buzz in loss to lowly Cavs
- Article by: JERRY ZGODA
- Star Tribune
- January 7, 2012 - 8:29 AM
My, how those Minnesota Nice fans justifiably turn surly now that they don't expect their team to ever flip the calendar back to last year again.
That's just what the Timberwolves did with Friday's 98-87 loss to Cleveland, a loss so familiar that rookie Derrick Williams said it felt just like last season even though he spent it leading Arizona to 30 victories and the NCAA tournament.
Some fans among the announced audience of 16,943 booed Darko Milicic lustily and harrumphed when Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley continued their early-season struggles.
One guy even asked aloud if Oleksiy Pecherov -- that famous early-season Boston Celtics killer from a few years ago -- is still in the league ... and presumably available.
Even Williams could sense the baggage that this franchise and its players carry with it on a night that negated a 29-point, 14-rebound performance by Kevin Love, who is the only guy other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in NBA history to start a season with at least 20 points and 12 rebounds in the first seven games.
"A couple guys in the locker room were saying this is the first time it felt like it was last year," Williams said. "I wasn't here last year, but from the looks on their faces you could really tell we don't want it to be like last year."
Like last season, the Wolves again seem to play up to their competition, and down to it.
They beat Dallas and San Antonio on back-to-back nights earlier in the week, with the victory over the Mavericks ending an 18-game losing streak. They have lost games to Oklahoma City and Miami by a combined six points.
But they fell flat to a Memphis team that was missing injured star Zach Randolph on Wednesday, then got outdone Friday not so much by Cavaliers veteran Antawn Jamison (22 points) and No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving (14 points, five assists), but rather by the energy and effort put forth by reserves such as Alonzo Gee and former Wolves guard Ramon Sessions.
"You could say that," Johnson said when asked if this team plays to its level of competition. "We didn't really have our mind set and focused on playing the same every night."
Strangely, coach Rick Adelman seemed to pin this one on the team's offense rather than its defense, suggesting that the Wolves need to find other ways to score than just pick-and-roll plays generated by rookie Ricky Rubio's creativity and three-point shooting, which on Friday failed the Wolves (4-for-20).
"I thought that was the first game they just outplayed us," Adelman said.
He called "glaring" the Wolves lack of ballhandlers beyond just Rubio and Luke Ridnour now that J.J. Barea remains out injured.
"We have two ballhandlers, and the rest of the guys struggle," Adelman said. "That limits a lot of things you can do."
Johnson, the starter at shooting guard, played fewer than 18 minutes and none again in the fourth quarter -- he has played only 69 seconds in fourth quarters so far this season -- on a night when he again was invisible offensively.
"I'm really just trying to find it," said the No. 4 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. "It's frustrating. Just out there thinking too much, over-thinking really, and not playing basketball. I think my mind is outside my body when I'm playing rather than going back to the old Wes. Just let it flow."
Beasley, playing with five stitches on his shooting hand, compensated for a 4-for-12 shooting night by grabbing 12 rebounds, but he had to leave late in the game after spraining his right foot.
He was on crutches after the game and in great pain as he tried to dress and put a sock on that right foot.
"I made the mistake last year of trying to play on a bad ankle, so I'll sit down for a couple days," Beasley said. "As long as they tell me to, as long as it takes to heal."
That means he won't play Sunday at Washington, his hometown.
Asked if it's the worst kind of timing, Beasley said: "Yeah and no. I love playing at home, but with the way I'm playing right now, it kind of worked out."
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