SAN ANTONIO – In best Texas two-step style, the Timberwolves went to San Antonio on the heels of a tough, competitive overtime loss and proceeded to take a big step back.
A while after Saturday's 123-101 loss to the Spurs at AT&T Center, coach Flip Saunders came out of the Wolves locker room Saturday, took a cursory glance at the boxscore and uttered the "U'' word again.
Or, in this case, the lack of it. "I was disappointed in our overall competitiveness," he said. "I thought our young guys got totally manhandled and they didn't react in a positive way. … It was like it has been before. Men against boys. You have to play with more of a sense of urgency.''
Sound familiar? In this injury-induced roller coaster of a season — one currently measured more by how this young team plays rather than wins and losses — the Wolves were back wondering why a team filled with youth can't at least serve up consistent effort.
The Spurs (15-5) played without starters Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, both resting minor aches and pains. Forward Tim Duncan played, but only 18½ minutes.
And yet the defending champion Spurs went out, played a physical style and took control early and cruising to their 10th victory in 11 games. They outrebounded the Wolves and shot 57.3 percent. They led by as many as 20 points in the second, by 27 in the third and by 28 early in the fourth.
All five starters scored in double figures, plus two more off the bench. Marco Belinelli had 20, Kawhi Leonard had 18 while helping harass Wolves rookie Andrew Wiggins into a 3-for-13 night.
While losing for a fifth straight time Minnesota (4-15) got 22 points and 10 assists from Zach LaVine, who got his first double-double while becoming the fourth NBA teenager to have a 20-point, 10-assist night. Shabazz Muhammad scored 20 points in 21 minutes.
Both teams were playing on the back end of back-to-backs, and the Wolves had the added burden of mechanical problems that delayed their takeoff from Minneapolis to well past 2 a.m. after Friday's game.
But Saunders wasn't in the mood for excuses. He was upset that the Wolves allowed the Spurs to, essentially, push them around. Especially after the Wolves opened the game with a pretty high energy level.
"Yes, at the start," he said. "But what do you do when they really hit you? I was disappointed we didn't have the energy level and competitiveness over the course of the whole game. We pick and choose. You can't pick and choose. And what's scary now is we have to play Golden State.''
The Wolves, having played Houston and San Antonio on back-to-back nights, host Golden State on Monday. Another team that, like the Spurs, shares the ball and shoots well.
"They hit us in the mouth right away," the Wolves' Corey Brewer said. "We have to know they're going to throw the first punch. We have to take it and play hard. We didn't play hard. We didn't hit back.''
But they took a step back.
"They did what they're supposed to do," the Wolves' Thad Young said. "Hit us first, see how we respond. We didn't respond well, as you can see.''
Saunders saw it, and didn't like it. The Wolves bounced back from a subpar effort against Philadelphia to play Houston to the wire. How will the team respond now?
"It's about playing the right way," Saunders said. "It's disappointing."