With nowhere to go after April 16 and seemingly nothing now to play for, the Timberwolves must redefine themselves and their aspirations in these final games of yet another season without playoffs.
Wednesday’s 102-88 victory over playoff-seeking Memphis was a considerable stride forward after consecutive losses to Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Wolves beat the Grizzlies — fighting since Christmas to get back in the playoff hunt — only nine days after they were thumped 109-92 in Memphis by an opponent battling Golden State, Dallas and Phoenix for the Western Conference’s final playoff spots and positioning.
The Grizzlies ended a five-game road trip 2-3, with star forward Zach Randolph shooting only 2-for-8 and scoring four points, while Wolves star Kevin Love delivered his third career triple-double — all this season, and the second in four games — with 24 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists.
Afterward, Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio suggested his team has readjusted its aim now that playoff aspirations are nothing but a distant memory. On the same night the Wolves mathematically avoided missing the playoffs for sure, he said his Wolves would rather win more than 40 games this season rather than simply play playoff spoiler.
On Wednesday, they rose back to even at 37-37 with eight games left in their season.
“I mean, our mentality has to be the same,” Rubio said after he scored 13 of his 14 points in a decisive third quarter when the Wolves outscored Memphis 29-20. “I know it’s hard, but it has to be the same every game, to try to win it. We are not going to play to make it hard for other teams to get to the playoffs. We’re going to play because we want to do something, you know? And try to build something. Our goal now is to go over 40-plus wins. That’s going to be a good season. Our goal was to get to the playoffs, but we couldn’t. But we’re not going to stop.”
Wolves guard Kevin Martin might have inspired his teammates with something he said after Monday’s lopsided 114-104 loss to the Clippers and Wednesday’s victory that ended the season series against Memphis even at 2-2.
“He said after last game you can feel a difference between what the Clippers are playing for and us when we’re out of it,” Love said. “So we wanted to find some sense of motivation, and that’s what we found tonight. We just want to knock off a team that’s fighting right now.”
Coach Dave Joerger called the Grizzlies “very heavy-legged” after playing for their playoff lives almost nightly for the past three months.
“Each game has meant so much since Christmas that you are starting to see the effects of it,” he said.
But not long after that, Joerger said: “They just lined up and beat us. All of them beat us.”
All of them ranged from Love’s triple-double and Rubio’s active night that got Memphis guard Mike Conley in foul trouble to a valuable bench performance from rookie Shabazz Muhammad (eight points on 4-for-5 shooting) and veteran center Ronny Turiaf’s 21-minute, 11-point evening in his first game back from a knee bone bruise since Feb. 19.
It was the kind of team effort Wolves coach Rick Adelman said he challenged his team to find.
“We told them this afternoon that everybody we play is playing for something except for maybe two teams,” Adelman said. “Everybody else has something on the line. We want to go out and play as well as we can and spoil it for them and see if we can’t be a factor in it.”
Missing Pekovic again
Wolves starting center Nikola Pekovic missed Wednesday’s game because of that troublesome right ankle that limited him to fewer than seven minutes against the Clippers.
Adelman said he still believes Pekovic’s injury is a day-to-day situation and doesn’t believe he has played for the last time this season. Rookie Gorgui Dieng returned to a starter’s role as he did for six games recently, and Turiaf returned after missing 19 games.