WASHINGTON – The Timberwolves not only lost yet another one Friday night, but their 112-105 loss to the Washington Wizards just might have violated an executive edict as well.
During the team’s White House visit on Wednesday, President Obama fairly marveled at the Wolves’ youthful athleticism. But the leader of the free world for two more weeks also told them they need to play better defense.
“It was a presidential order,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said Friday morning, when he was in a better mood.
The penalty for such immediate civil disobedience wasn’t immediately known, other than it was the Wolves’ third consecutive defeat and sixth in eight games. The Wizards won at home for the ninth consecutive time.
Andrew Wiggins scored 41 points — six away from a career high — in another display of the Timberwolves’ vast offensive potential. But the Wolves also allowed the Wizards to shoot better than 58 percent for the night and surrendered a dizzying 9-0 run that started the fourth quarter after they had just battled back from a 14-point deficit to take an 85-80 lead after three quarters.
“It doesn’t mean nothing,” Wiggins said of his offensive performance. “We lost because of our defense. What we did offensively doesn’t mean nothing at the end of the game. … We can’t keep trading buckets with the other team.”
The two teams entered the evening with the NBA’s most relied-upon starting lineups, and the Wizards changed the game to start the fourth quarter, when both teams had starters sprinkled in among their second units.
In a matter of mere moments, that five-point lead was an 89-85 Wolves deficit with 9½ minutes left.
“It’s the NBA, what do you want me to tell you?” Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “This is not college or high school, where you get a lead in double digits and it’s almost game over. This is the NBA. Leads can go just like that.”
The Wolves later tied the score four times, the last time at 101-101 with 2 minutes, 31 seconds remaining. But they never regained the lead again, as Washington All-Star John Wall delivered 18 points and 18 assists and backcourt mate Bradley Beal scored 22 points.
“He killed us,” Thibodeau said about Wall. “Eighteen assists, pushed the ball, made plays. It only takes one of your guys to jog back on defense and it crushes you.”
On the other end, Beal harassed Wolves guard Zach LaVine all night, all the way to a 3-for-14 shooting game.
“I went over screens, under screens, contested everything,” Beal said. “I gave him a few pushes here and there, just was a little physical with him.”
Included were missed shots by both LaVine and Wiggins as the clock ticked away, when the Wolves couldn’t get the defensive stops or the shots they needed to fall.
Wiggins went 16-for-30 from the floor, but the Wolves didn’t score after his final made shot of the night with 1:03 left. He called his shots at game’s end good ones that he simply missed.
“He played well offensively. Defensively he’s got to improve,” Thibodeau said. “He has got to do a lot better. Zach struggled all night offensively and defensively. We’ve got to learn you can play well when you don’t shoot well.”
Wolves teammate Gorgui Dieng witnessed Wiggins’ scoring night and wants more.
“Wiggins is a great basketball player,” Dieng said. “I talk to him a lot and he cannot pick and choose when he wants to play. We need him to play like this every night. He needs help, but he’s our leader who needs to play like this every night.”