The latest Timberwolves road trip out West hasn’t quite taken on the horror show feel of the last one, which ended 0-5 and resulted in Jimmy Butler finally being traded.
But the trip now sits at 0-3 after a 141-130 loss to Sacramento on Wednesday and perhaps feels even more disappointing than that last awful stretch if only because the Wolves had generated great optimism by going 9-3 since the trade and seemingly had discovered a winning combination centered around defense that might lead to better road results.
Spanning both iterations of the Wolves — pre- and post-Butler — this team is now 0-10 in conference games on the road. There are a lot of ways to define a 13-15 season-to-date, but that’s as good as any. Winning on the road is tough, but even marginally better results would have a major impact.
Let’s take a look at what has gone wrong on the court, identify some extenuating circumstances and see if there is any hope that things might bet better:
WHAT HAS GONE WRONG
This one is pretty easy. The Wolves’ defense and rebounding have been abysmal in Western Conference road games.
They rank No. 28 in defensive rating in road games against the West at 117.6. While certainly skewed by the 141 points surrendered Wednesday, their mark is even worse if we isolate on this current trip: 119.7.
Part of the reason the defense has been so bad is that the Wolves have the worst defensive rebounding rate (66.1) of any team playing road games against Western Conference teams. That had been a problem before the Butler trade, but the Wolves had moved toward the middle of the pack since adding defensive stalwart Robert Covington and versatile forward Dario Saric. On this trip, the rate is back down to 67.4.
Well, part of the problem is that the West is really good — or at least there is only one team in the West, Phoenix, that is really bad. Everyone else is two games below .500 or better.
The West was tough last year, but there were four teams that finished 27-55 or worse. The Wolves, if you’ll recall, went 34-18 against the West last season but just 13-17 against the weaker East. This year, it’s reversed. In all games, the Wolves are 6-12 against the West and 7-3 against the East.
The Wolves have also had some unfortunate momentum interruptions and health issues on both of their big West trips. The Butler saga was draining them last time, but they also missed Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose and Andrew Wiggins for stretches. On this trip, Covington missed the Portland game — a winnable one Minnesota arguably should have locked down regardless.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
Well, the Wolves are already done playing Golden State and Portland on the road after losing a combined four games to those teams. Those are hard places to win for any team. And they get two road games at Phoenix (4-24), including one Saturday to end the trip.
Minnesota also doesn’t have any road trips out West (or anywhere, for that matter) that are longer than three games for the rest of the season. Long trips aren’t necessarily bad, but they can tend to compound problems, wear teams down and expose weaknesses.
If the Wolves can at least beat Phoenix on Saturday, they won’t embark on their Western Conference road game feeling the weight of the world — and perhaps they can start ascending to the mean after all this regression.