The Timberwolves flew west to Sacramento on Thanksgiving, returning to the relative comforts of the road for a team that is 2-6 at Target Center this season after winning its last two games there and 5-2 away from it.
It is a disparity most uncommon in a league where even bad teams win at home often and good teams struggle to win on the road. There likely are a multitude of reasons why, everything ranging from such things as intensity and focus to pressure.
Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell has a theory of his own about a team built upon such youth: Kids will be kids.
“There is probably a good reason why we’re winning more games on the road than at home,” he said. “Because when you’re young, 20 years old, how many people are at your house?”
Mitchell attributes some of his team’s start at home to young men in the NBA, living on their own for the first time, with money in their pockets for the first time and family and friends who want to join the ride.
They are young men, Mitchell reminds, who haven’t yet learned to say no when they should.
“First of all, you’re 20, most 20-year-olds don’t have their own house,” Mitchell said. “So now you not only have your own place, but you have a nice place. You have means. So part of growing up and learning how to be a professional is learning how to get people out of your house the night before a game. On the road, they’re by themselves, in their rooms. They don’t have distractions. Part of growing up is how you tell your friends how to leave my house so I can get some rest with all this on your dime going on. It’s hard to do that.”
It’s a lesson in preparation and readiness he hopes showed itself in some ways during home victories over winless Philadelphia on Monday and playoff-aimed Atlanta on Wednesday.
It’s also a lesson that veterans such as Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince learned long ago, a lesson in discipline and routine. Mitchell said he learned his own routine over time when he played. He discovered what he could eat before a game and what didn’t settle in his stomach well. He learned to turn off his phone and turn on his mind to his night’s work by 3 p.m. every gameday.
And he learned how to tell his family and friends to let him be when the time comes.
“All your family members, this is new to them, they’re excited,” Mitchell said. “But what they don’t understand is you got 41 games at home, got 82 games [total]. It takes a different mindset, a different commitment the day of a game. You don’t just walk nonchalantly through your day and at 6 o’clock say, ‘Oh, I got a basketball game in an hour.’ It doesn’t work that way. We’re teaching our young guys about gameday preparation, how important it is to say no.”
Young star Andrew Wiggins’ family moved with him from Toronto to the Twin Cities for his rookie season a year ago. He lived alone but always had them near.
“I always get my rest,” said Wiggins, who at age 20 now remains a lover of sleep.
Third-year forward Shabazz Muhammad, though, knows of what Mitchell speaks.
Asked if he believes in Mitchell’s theory, the 23-year-old Muhammad said: “I do a little bit. Sometimes when you have people around, they’re always yapping and you just want to go and get your rest. That can be something hard to tune out. We have to act beyond our years and overcome that. … It is hard to say no. This is my third year and I’m getting a little older, so it’s easier for me to say no.”
The Wolves left for California early Thursday evening, making it a shortened holiday at home in a career touched by such sacrifices.
“Everybody gets to enjoy the fruits of their labor during the season but them,” Mitchell said. “I tell them how many times I’ve called home on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s and everybody at my house is popping champagne, having a great time and I’m sitting in a hotel room by myself because we got a game the next night. That’s hard to do, and it’s really hard to do when everybody’s at your house and you’re 20 years old.”