Sam Mitchell tried philosophy. After a difficult loss, maybe that’s the best option.
So Mitchell, the Wolves’ interim coach, smiled and shook his head when talking about his disappointed young team.
“If one of them learns something tonight, about execution, spacing, about timing or waiting on screens, it was worth it,” he said. “So I can take that.’’
He had little choice after the Wolves, up three with a minute left after Zach LaVine calmly hit a 19-foot jump shot, let the game get away in a 110-106 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at Target Center.
In early March 2012 the Timberwolves beat the Clippers in Los Angeles. It hasn’t happened since. Monday’s loss — the Wolves’ fourth consecutive overall — was the 14th straight against the Clippers. It is the second-longest active winning streak by one team over another in the NBA.
Few were as painful as this one. And at least one of those young players, LaVine, sounded a little tired of the idea of lessons learned.
“I’d rather not learn something and get the win,” LaVine said, only half-joking. “I mean, you can always learn at practice.’’
The Wolves (8-12) knew the game would be tough when Chris Paul unexpectedly returned from a rib injury and J.J. Redick returned from an ankle injury to play. Those two and Jamal Crawford were important down the stretch.
But much of the loss can be placed on Wolves mistakes.
Up three, the Wolves let Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (20 points, 12 rebounds) free for a dunk. After a miss by LaVine, Blake Griffin (16 points, 11 boards) scored with 25.5 seconds left, putting the Clippers ahead for good.
Out of a timeout the Wolves were unable to inbound the ball; LaVine’s pass to Andrew Wiggins was broken up by Luc Mbah a Moute. They fouled Redick, he made both free throws and the Wolves were down three.
In the ensuing free throw marathon there was one more mistake, when Karl-Anthony Towns (18 points) committed a foul away from the ball in the closing seconds, which gave the Clippers one free throw and possession of the ball.
“Eventually we’ll start beating some of these teams,” Mitchell said. “As long as young guys learned something tonight. Losing a game does one of two things. It breaks you or makes you stronger.’’
Nobody seemed broken in the locker room after the game. But there was frustration. After a strong 13-point, nine-rebound performance, Shabazz Muhammad hinted that he wished he had been in the game late, feeling he could have helped.
LaVine, after scoring 21 points off the bench, was unhappy, period. “That last minute? Man, it’s killing us,’’ he said. “We have to learn how to pull it through.’’
The Wolves have lost the first three games of their four-game homestand, with the Los Angeles Lakers set to roll for a game Wednesday. The Wolves are 2-9 at home, consistently playing well enough to be competitive but not good enough to win.
“We’re disappointed with our record at home,” Mitchell said. “But we’ve been in every game. I can count one game where we really didn’t feel like we had a chance to win it. But they grew tonight.’’