Earlier this season, when the Timberwolves were going through a losing streak, guard Anthony Edwards remarked that once the Wolves had everybody back healthy again, they would be just fine. He was right.
Eventually, the Wolves got players back healthy and won seven of eight. But the reality of life in the NBA is more
complicated — not everyone who plays heavy minutes is always going to be available. The Wolves have had players in and out of the lineup over the past week because of injury and illness. As a result, they have now lost three in a row, the latest coming 121-110 to Atlanta on Monday at Target Center.
This time, guard D'Angelo Russell joined already-injured guard Patrick Beverley on the bench because of right ankle soreness and the Wolves didn't have the defense to contain the Hawks nor the firepower to keep up with them, especially when the Hawks had all their big guns available and the Wolves did not.
"No one is feeling sorry for us," coach Chris Finch said. "Everyone has one of these patches in the season where you have injuries or illness or whatnot. Rotation has been a little bit tough to just figure out the pieces."
BOXSCORE: Atlanta 121, Timberwolves 110
Atlanta shot 25-for-49 (51%) from three-point range, a franchise record, with guards Trae Young scoring 29 points and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot scoring 23, making seven of 14 threes.
Center Karl-Anthony Towns, who said he felt "terrible" playing through an injured tailbone that caused him to sit out Friday in a 110-105 loss to the Nets, had 31 points, 16 rebounds and about six hard falls on that tailbone that put him in discomfort.
Edwards added 20 and guard Malik Beasley had 24 as he led a fourth-quarter surge, but the Wolves couldn't get closer than 10 down the stretch.
The young Wolves can't afford to lose key players for too long, and now they are finding out what happens when they have to try and compensate for the loss of multiple teammates on a nightly basis.
"There's no margin for error for our team no matter what you're talking about — rotation, effort or defense or shooting," Finch said. "We just don't have much margin for error. That's why we've got to play basically full throttle and get back to guarding people. When we do that, we have a chance."
The big problem Monday was the Wolves didn't close out hard enough on Atlanta's three-point attempts, Finch said.
"We just stopped short. Our urgency to contest shots was not there," Finch said. "We've been really good at that all year."
That's one reason why the Wolves have one of the best three-point defenses in the league. But Beverley and Russell, who has the highest defensive rating on the team, have been helping quarterback the defense. Even though they tried doing so from the bench, the result wasn't the same.
"We wasn't on a string as we are defensively usually, like flying around," said forward Jaden McDaniels, who returned from a three-game absence because of illness. "Sometimes it was predetermined rotations, so it kind of messes things up."
Towns said the absences were "just excuses" the Wolves can't be using for the reasons why they have lost three in a row.
"It shouldn't matter who is on the court," he said. "We should be playing Timberwolves basketball every single night."
The slide isn't cause for alarm but can be a reminder that success in the NBA can be fragile, especially with the Wolves facing a daunting December schedule.
"This team will make the playoffs if we're willing to work with consistency on a daily basis," Towns said.
Even if the names available to play on a daily basis aren't consistent.