After Saturday’s loss to San Antonio at Target Center, Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders was asked whether he was sometimes hardest on the players he likes the most.


“I’m tough on players I think have a chance to be very special,’’ he said. “My toughness on them has to do with repeated mental mistakes.’’

For example: Gorgui Dieng.

In his second season, thrust into the starting role because of Nikola Pekovic’s lingering ankle injury, Dieng has, statistically, taken great strides. Saturday, often covering Tim Duncan on defense, Dieng put up 18 points with 12 rebounds — five on offense — and four blocks. Dieng became the sixth player in the league this season to have a game with 18 or more points, 12 or more rebounds, five or more offensive rebounds and four or more blocks. It was his ninth double-double of the season.

Yet Saunders wants more.

“Gorgui is playing hard,” he said. “He has had good growth.’’

But: Playing at a position that requires so much defensively, Dieng still is making mistakes, Saunders said. Against Duncan, there were times when Dieng lost contact, allowing Duncan to get an easy basket.

“When you play a team like San Antonio, and you have a defensive breakdown, or as a player you’re not doing what we’re trying to do from a conceptual standpoint, you’re going to give up a layup,” Saunders said. “[Dieng] had four or five of those [Saturday]. Now, he had some other great covers. He had more great covers than he had bad. But he’s in such a pivotal position, where we ask him to do so much, that it’s difficult.”

Saunders joked Saturday that it is to the point where, often, Dieng will admit to and identify an error he’s made before Saunders can yell at him about it. “We’re making baby steps in the right direction,” Saunders said.

Buying time?

One of the consequences of having such a young lineup on the floor is the need to call a lot of timeouts. Nobody knows this more than Saunders.

“I called the league and asked them if I could buy more timeouts,” he joked. “We’re definitely trying to use as many timeouts as we can. If I had a nickel for every time I asked how many timeouts I had left, I wouldn’t need a contract.”

Hitting the road

The Wolves will hold a full practice Monday before leaving for Indiana to start a four-game road trip that also includes stops at Phoenix, Denver and Charlotte. Of the four teams, only Phoenix has a winning record.