Something, Sam Mitchell said, has to change.
The Wolves interim coach was talking after his team lost 112-100 to Denver on Tuesday at Target Center. He talked quietly, rubbing his face as if he could wipe away the Timberwolves losing for a seventh time in eight games while allowing the Nuggets one open shot after another.
The Wolves lineup, Mitchell said, likely will change, though he wouldn’t give a clue how. “I have an idea,” he said. “I’ll sleep on it.”
The Wolves had gone to overtime in a loss in Denver on Friday. On Tuesday, the Nuggets (11-14) came in on the back end of a back-to-back and soundly whipped the Wolves, shooting 56.2 percent, outrebounding Minnesota 39-31 and winning the battles to loose balls.
Denver made 41 of 73 shots, hit on 10 of 18 three-pointers. Former Wolves player Randy Foye scored 17 of his 19 points in the second quarter as the Nuggets — who shot 25-for-39 and scored 65 points in the second and third quarters — breezed to the victory. Six Nuggets scored in double figures.
This from a team that entered the game 25th in the league in shooting.
Early in the season, going with a veteran starting lineup that included Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince, the Wolves played pretty good defense but struggled at times to score. A few games back Mitchell put Kevin Martin into the starting lineup for Prince to boost that scoring.
“Now we’re not scoring enough, we’re not defending,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to have to do something. Make adjustments, tweak the lineup a little bit.”
It has to start with defense. Mitchell has accepted the fact that this team won’t be a prolific three-point shooting team. For some reason this group struggles to consistently get into transition. So, in order to win, the defense has to improve.
But that won’t be easy.
Again, Mitchell pointed to youth. Tuesday the trio of 20-year-olds all scored well — Andrew Wiggins had 23, Zach LaVine 20, Karl-Anthony Towns 18. But the defense struggled. Three of the Wolves’ past six opponents have shot better than 50 percent, and that includes the Lakers, who came to Target Center as the league’s poorest shooting team and shot 51.6 percent.
The young players, Mitchell said, haven’t mastered their pick-and-roll defense. Help defense is hit and miss.
“You practice it, but it has to become second nature,” Mitchell said. “We have some guys feeling sorry for themselves. They don’t yet know what the league is all about.”
It is interesting, then, that both LaVine and Towns, when asked about the Wolves defense, said basically the same thing.
“It seems like everybody’s been making shots against us,” LaVine said. “Can’t do much about that.”
But veteran Ricky Rubio saw it differently:
“We’re just not doing our job,” he said. “On defense we’re kind of lazy right now. We’re losing games we should be winning. It’s on us. We can’t blame anybody.”
One thing is certain. The current stretch has put the Wolves at perhaps their lowest point this season. LaVine said the team was fed up with it.
“It’s not like we like losing,” LaVine said. “It’s really annoying. We’re going out there to win. We just have to learn how to put it together.”
The Wolves will try to do just that Wednesday in New York. Perhaps with a different starting lineup, a tweaked rotation. Something has to change.
“Sometimes it seems like we’re going to be fine,” Rubio said. “But if we don’t start doing it, we’re not going to be fine. It’s just frustrating.”