In one 48-minute game Wednesday night at Target Center, the Timberwolves displayed the most amazing split personality.
They played their best 10-plus minute stretch of the season, a joyful first-half run that included defense, passing and shooting. By the time the game ended, they had suffered their biggest collapse of the year.
The final: Orlando 97, Minnesota 96.
The Wolves were up 20 late in the first quarter, still up 13 with 6:33 left in the fourth when Malik Beasley hit a three-pointer. The rest of the game was a blur of poor possessions, shoddy defense and a Magic 19-5 run to end the game, finished off when rookie Cole Anthony hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer after Jarred Vanderbilt missed two free throws with 4.6 seconds left.
Before the game, Wolves coach Ryan Saunders talked about his young team needing to learn not to get too high after a good stretch or too low following a bad one. Wednesday, even D'Angelo Russell said the team eased up down the stretch. And now the team has to figure out how to get over this loss.
"I feel like I'm saying the same thing every game," said Russell, who scored 15 points in a 33-6 run that put the Wolves up 51-31 with 1:41 left in the first half. He scored only four points in the second half, none in the fourth quarter. "Just playing hard the whole game. At the end of the game, it gets tight and close and you've got to turn it up a notch. I don't think we're there yet."
Added Anthony Edwards: "All I can say is I think we gave the game away."
Nikola Vucevic scored 28 for the Magic, which ended a six-game losing streak by winning for the first time this season after trailing at halftime. Evan Fournier had 24. Anthony had 13, including the final six points of the game; his three-pointer with 34.6 seconds left made it a two-point game.
With 7.2 seconds left, Orlando's Aaron Gordon missed a wide-open three-pointer. Vanderbilt got the rebound and was fouled but missed both free throws.
"We didn't do some things that got us to that point," Saunders said of the 20-point lead his team built.
"I thought we started making things up defensively, in terms of, 'Let's switch this as opposed to stick to our solid game plan. Can't do that. That's not a recipe for winning."
Naz Reid scored 14 points for Minnesota. Beasley had 13, Jaden McDaniels 12. Afterward Russell said losing was a part of learning. But …
"But it's how we lose," he said. "It's how we lose. That's all I'm gonna say."
Both teams were without key players, with the Wolves missing Karl-Anthony Towns, Juancho Hernangomez and Ricky Rubio because of COVID-19 protocols. Still, the Wolves have to learn how to handle success before they can avoid these tough losses.
A good question, Russell said. "I wish I knew. I'm giving it my all. I'm attacking this with full effort."
Russell said he felt bad for Saunders, who some feel is on the hot seat after the Wolves' slow start.
"He's not getting a fair chance to showcase our team," he said. "Our full team."
Saunders? He said all the Wolves can do is get back to work.
"Same way I always do it in a tough time," he said. "You continue to coach, you continue to attack the day and take care of tomorrow so you can take care of the day after that. That's the only way I know how."
• The Star Tribune did not attend this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.