For a while Tuesday, the Timberwolves watched film. Then players and coaches walked onto the practice floor, stood in a circle for the better part of 90 minutes and talked. Both veterans and young players, starters and reserves. Everybody had an opportunity.
Interim coach Sam Mitchell called it a housecleaning. The common term would be clearing the air. On a day when the team really didn’t practice at all, rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns called it the best practice of the season.
“I can’t tell you enough how valuable this practice was to us,” he said. “Especially to our growth, and our process and our success.”
This was not a gripe session, Mitchell said. It was more an opportunity for everyone to speak their minds about goals for the year and hear what teammates expect from each other.
“Everyone was honest with each other, with the expectations of each other, what we need to get from each other, to make our team more complete,” Mitchell said. “The thing I’m proud and optimistic about is that the things they said are the things as a coach you want them to say. It was refreshing.”
Whether that refreshment translates into victories remains to be seen, but Mitchell felt his team needed this. The Wolves enter Wednesday’s game with Denver at Target Center on a three-game losing streak during which the team has been outscored by a combined 34 points in the fourth quarter. Minnesota has lost seven of eight.
So maybe a little team-building was in order.
Mitchell didn’t get into too many specifics, but there were themes discussed. Including:
• The need for the team to bring effort and energy for four quarters. Mitchell has been talking about this for a while, for the need for younger players to learn to concentrate for the full two-plus hours of a game. Veteran point guard Andre Miller talked to the young players about the need for grabbing hold of every opportunity.
• The need for sacrifice. For reserve players, that means accepting a roller coaster of playing time and opportunity. For starters, it means bringing the same intensity level every night, even when the results might not be there. Sacrifices can be big or small. It can be something like setting a better screen or making an extra pass. Or it can mean more. Mitchell told his story of going to Flip Saunders years ago and telling him to start a still-developing Kevin Garnett ahead of him. While this story might be lore to Wolves fans, it was new to some Tuesday.
“That was the first time I ever heard that,” Towns said. “That’s just amazing.”
But will this all make a difference?
Veteran guard Ricky Rubio seemed more cautiously optimistic.
“Sometimes when things go wrong, you look for excuses or you see other people before you see your problems,” he said. “I think we have to be a team. … We can talk about a lot of things that we’ve been doing wrong. But Golden State or San Antonio are doing things wrong. What they do best is they play with energy, and they learn how to win. They take that as a philosophy. We’ve got to take that. Every ball, everything matters. Of course we can set better screens. Of course we can make better plays. But if you don’t have the energy, it doesn’t matter.”
Mitchell said that, going forward, he would be more inclined to play more veterans down the stretch of close games, much as he did in a recent victory over Utah, to get more victories. The goal is still development, but the team needs wins, too. That will happen more when center Nikola Pekovic returns from his rehab from Achilles’ surgery; Mitchell said Pekovic was 50-50 for Wednesday. Veteran guard Kevin Martin might see more action, too, after sitting out seven consecutive games.
But Tuesday was more about talking than examining schemes.
Will it result in more energy? “I think we’ve touched bottom now,” Rubio said. “So we’ve got to find it somehow.”