Late-season success tastes a bit sour for Wolves

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 14, 2014 - 12:36 PM

Missing playoffs again is hitting home, especially after recent Wolves wins over teams that earned their way there.

– In April alone, the Timberwolves have won at Miami, beaten San Antonio, Houston and Miami at home and lost at Sacramento and Orlando.

All the more reason, it turns out, for teammates Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer to use words such as “frustrating” and “disappointing” to describe a season that, for the 10th consecutive year, ends Wednesday without reaching the playoffs.

The Wolves watched Corey Brewer score 51 points out of nowhere Friday night against the Rockets before they embarked on a final two-game trip that started with Sunday’s 106-103 loss at Sacramento.

The thrill of recent victories has left Rubio a bit melancholy, too.

“I don’t know how to say, but it’s kind of sad, too, that kind of game we can play against Houston,” Rubio said. “It’s kind of sad to see us beating these teams and not being in playoffs because when we play like that, it’s fun to play. [Houston] is a playoff team, I would say, and we’re not. We don’t deserve it because we didn’t win enough games. It is something that is inside of us and we’re going to finish the season strong.”

The Wolves followed Friday’s crowd-pleaser at Target Center by losing to a Kings team that had lost its past five games before Sunday.

Wolves star Kevin Love returned after missing Friday’s game because of a hyperextended elbow, but his presence and his 43-point, 11-rebound night weren’t enough, not when backcourt teammates Rubio, Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea combined to shoot 2-for-23 with seven points among them, and not when Kings star DeMarcus Cousins countered Love’s night with a 35-point, 15-rebound, six-assist game of his own.

“We had nothing on the outside, other than Kevin,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said, referring to Love. “So it’s hard to win with that.”

Martin returned Sunday after missing five games because of a sore right foot that he thinks had a touch of plantar fasciitis with it. He scored only on two free throws, and Adelman played him just 18 minutes because he felt Martin wasn’t moving well or in a rhythm. Reserve center Ronny Turiaf played only four minutes because of a sore knee, the same knee that caused him to miss 19 consecutive games. Without him, the Wolves struggled to find defensive options against Cousins, other than rookie starter Gorgui Dieng.

“Our defense just wasn’t good enough in the second half,” Love said before referring to Turiaf’s absence. “It was tough [without Turiaf], and Cousins was rolling. That’s a big boy. So when he gets rolling, he’s good.”

The Kings are 28-53. The Wolves moved back to even (40-40) after going 31-51 in a 2012-13 season in which Love was limited to 18 games because of injuries.

With two games remaining, still within reach is the franchise’s first winning season since they went 44-38 in 2004-05, the season after the Wolves advanced out of the playoffs’ first round for the first time and rolled to the Western Conference finals featuring Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell.

April’s victories — including Friday’s game when Brewer energized a weekend-night crowd with a 51-point scoring performance — have given the team’s fans something to remember. Sunday loss was another one to forget.

“It has been kind of a disappointing season for us, so to give the fans something to cheer about means a lot,” said Brewer, who returned via free agency last summer to the franchise that drafted him in 2007. “It has been very frustrating. I feel like we should be in the playoffs, I feel like everybody feels like we should be in the playoffs. That was the goal when we came in this year. That’s why I signed back, because I thought we’d be a playoff team.”

Adelman didn’t sound too sentimental about what might have or should have been when asked about the season before Sunday’s game.

“Well, you know you can say all you want, but the fact is that’s what we did,” Adelman said before Sunday’s game. “We lost all those close games early in the year and that really put us in a bind. Yeah, we’ve shown we can play with a lot of people but we haven’t been consistent enough. You have to look at that realistically and figure out how can we do better in the future?”

Adelman isn’t ready, though, to dismiss these April victories as games when their opponents might have been measuring the season’s remaining days with the playoffs mainly in mind.

“People talk about it, people say it means nothing we’re doing this, it means nothing you beat the Heat,” Adelman said. “That’s a bunch of baloney. Anybody who says that never played sports in their life. You go on the road in this league, you’ve got to play and if you win games it’s to our credit. It’s not what we wanted to do, but we’re still playing, we’re still playing hard. It’s not easy. I don’t look at it like it is. I look back and say I wish we would have put ourselves in better position. But we’re trying to play things out. We’re trying to win games. You’re really building it for next year.”

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