TORONTO – The Timberwolves slipped three games under .500 for the first time this season with a 94-89 loss at Toronto on Friday, a night when starting point guard Ricky Rubio again sat for the entire fourth quarter while J.J. Barea tried unsuccessfully to will his team back.
Unlike Wednesday’s home loss to Sacramento, this one — the Wolves’ third consecutive loss and their sixth in the past nine games — didn’t come and go in the visitor’s dressing room at Air Canada Centre with the same expressions of desperation or discord that other recent losses have.
Barea worked the room afterward, encouraging teammates, praising them for their defensive effort and calling a five-point loss to a Raptors team rolling since they traded away star Rudy Gay “progress.”
“We played hard,” Barea said. “If we play with that passion and that energy on the defensive side, we’re going to be fine.”
Wolves star Kevin Love sat at his locker, his head actually raised while he answered questions this time and pointed his finger at nothing but the Wolves’ 44 percent shooting and Toronto guard Kyle Lowry’s deft long-range shooting.
“I thought we played extremely hard tonight, we just didn’t necessarily shoot the ball well,” Love said. “I thought we played hard, I really did.”
The Wolves (18-21) head home to play Utah on Saturday night, trailing Dallas by 4½ games for the West’s eighth playoff berth, after they had stayed at or within two games of .500 for the past six weeks.
Before the game, Wolves coach Rick Adelman spoke about the importance of keeping that .500 mark in sight, saying “You can’t stray too far away because you’re going to get left behind.”
After the game, Adelman said he didn’t fear anything is slipping away in a season that still has 43 games remaining.
“You can’t look at it that way,” he said. “You’ve got to keep playing. You think about the next game, getting a win and moving forward from there. That’s not the way you approach it.”
Adelman sounded mystified and miffed about his team’s effort after Wednesday’s game, a 111-108 loss to the Kings in which his team showed little life until well into the fourth quarter.
He voiced none of the same concerns after Friday’s loss. Rather, he mostly lamented Lowry’s six three-pointers, including a step-back one with 15 seconds left that made it five consecutive points for Toronto after the Wolves had pulled within 85-83 with 1:41 left.
The Raptors are 14-6 since they traded Gay to Sacramento and, at 20-18, they are heading in the opposite direction from the Wolves in the less competitive Eastern Conference.
While Lowry scored a game-high 24 points, Rubio again sat and watched the entire fourth quarter for the second consecutive game while Adelman turned to Barea’s spunk.
Adelman was asked afterward how concerned he is getting about Rubio’s play and body language. Rubio scored six points on 2-for-6 shooting from the floor and added four assists, four rebounds, two steals and no turnovers in playing 23 minutes, one fewer minute than he played Wednesday.
“He’s fine, he’s fine,” Adelman said. “I went with the guys I thought could win the game, and we almost did. It just wasn’t enough. … I played the people I thought could win the game. I’m not going to answer the question why someone did and why someone didn’t play. That’s obviously what I did.”
On Thursday, Rubio acknowledged he is what Adelman termed a “perfectionist” who demands much of himself, tends to be too hard on himself when he doesn’t play well and said he was trying to “find myself again.”
After Friday’s game, he said, “I feel comfortable, I felt better than the other day … I’m mean, I’m going to keep doing my thing, try to improve every day and try to play like me … It’s my team. I’m going to support them and even if I’m not on the court, I’m going to cheer for them. And if I’m on the court, I’m going to die for it and off the court I’m going to do the same thing.”