One of coach Sam Mitchell’s favorite sayings so far in this young Timberwolves season is that you can’t fast-forward a young player’s development. A 19-year-old can’t turn 24 overnight.
Translation: You have to live with the growing pains.
And boy, was it painful Thursday night.
The veteran Miami Heat — a team expected to make the Eastern Conference playoffs — came to Target Center and beat the Wolves 96-84. The Heat led by as many as 21 points late in the game. All five Miami starters scored in double figures, led by Dwyane Wade’s 25, as the Heat starters outscored their Wolves counterpoints 81-29.
Over the course of four quarters, Mitchell saw his young team start missing shots, abandon the game plan and revert to a 1-on-1 game and ultimately turn in the Wolves’ worst offensive performance of the season in both points and field-goal shooting (35.3 percent).
“It’s just a young team learning how to play basketball,” Mitchell said. “The thing I laugh about every day is, they think they know how to play. That’s the toughest thing with kids today, they think they know how to play. It will take a certain amount of failure before they realize you’re not going to reinvent this game. It’s simple. Run, rebound, defend, make the extra pass.”
Rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns made three of 13 shots, had only four rebounds and was a remarkable minus-21 in just over 22 minutes of playing time. Andrew Wiggins was 5-for-18 and a minus-19.
There were a couple bright spots. Shabazz Muhammad brought energy and Kevin Martin a calm off the bench; both scored 14 points for a Wolves bench that shot 43.2 percent and scored 55 points.
But the veteran Heat made the youngsters pay. Chris Bosh had 16 points and 12 rebounds. Center Hassan Whiteside had 12 and nine. Guard Goran Dragic had 18 points.
The Heat (3-2) led by seven after a quarter, 10 at the half, 12 after three and 21 with four minutes left.
Wiggins said he liked the shots he was getting and that they would eventually start to fall. He wasn’t alone.
“I got the shots I wanted,” said Towns, who failed to score in double figures for the first time. “Easily got the shots I wanted, got ’em in my sweet spots. [Thursday] they didn’t fall. I have the motto if it’s going in and out one night, the next opponent should be worried.”
But it was Mitchell who sounded, if not worried, at least frustrated.
“They have to learn from these times,” he said of the Wolves, who dropped to 2-2 with a second consecutive home loss. “It’s not just the fact that we have a game like this. So we had it. My biggest hope is we learn from it. Because there will be another time when the ball’s not going in. That’s when we have to understand we have to set better screens, run, make better passes.”
Perhaps because of the way the game was going, Mitchell’s rotation dramatically changed. Ricky Rubio played only 24 minutes because Mitchell wanted to save him with the game getting out of hand. Late in the game, Mitchell gave veteran guard Andre Miller his first playing time of the season, and the result was a return of ball movement and a relatively strong finish.
“I think if you move the ball, great things happen,” Muhammad said. “That’s something we need to worry about. We started the season 2-0 and we played the right way. I don’t know what we saw out there [Thursday].”
Mitchell was asked if a young team needs a game like this once in a while to remind them what it takes to win.
“You’re probably right,” he said. “But, as you get older, you can’t take too many games like this.”