Sitting at his locker Saturday night, Gorgui Dieng looked tired.
“Some nights,” Dieng said, shaking his head. “Some nights you just play bad.”
Was it the minutes the young Timberwolves had played the night before? Was it the injuries that have left the Wolves rather thin in the frontcourt? Was it just one of those nights?
Maybe a little bit of all three. In a 103-95 loss to the New York Knicks at Target Center — one that broke New York’s seven-game losing streak and gave interim coach Kurt Rambis his first victory with the Knicks — the Wolves never led. Perhaps even worse, they really didn’t compete.
The Knicks raced to a 13-point lead in the first five minutes, then spent much of the rest of the night pushing the young Wolves around. With Carmelo Anthony scoring 30 points and center Robin Lopez absolutely dominating down low, the Knicks shot 50.6 percent, outrebounded the Wolves 51-31 and led by as many as 24 early in the fourth quarter before the Wolves managed to make the final score a bit more palatable.
In a game that promised to be a look at the Rookie of the Year race, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns (24 points, eight rebounds) easily got the better of New York rookie Kristaps Porzingis (six points, two rebounds).
But the Wolves had no answer for the physical Knicks, who won for just the second time in 13 games.
“Just big,” Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said of Lopez, who scored 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting with 16 rebounds and three blocks. “Give Robin credit. He never left the paint, never left the rim. And we couldn’t move him.”
The Wolves were undone by a poor first quarter and a disastrous end to the third; after cutting a 20-point Knicks lead to six early in the third quarter, the Knicks finished the quarter on an 18-4 run with four players scoring four or more points.
“We didn’t play aggressive until the last quarter,” said Ricky Rubio, who had nine points and 16 assists. “It’s an old story, and it happened again.”
The Wolves didn’t hit a field goal until Towns hit a 16-footer with 7:17 left in the opening quarter. By that time the Wolves were already down double digits thanks to Lopez, who scored 16 of his points with seven rebounds in the first 12 minutes; it was the most points he has scored in a quarter in his eight-year career.
“We came out like we had the game already,” said Andrew Wiggins. He scored 24 points but was 5-for-16 with 13 points through three quarters. “We weren’t putting our hands on them; we weren’t physical. We can’t let it happen again. We have to have more energy, no matter what it takes. That’s the mind-set we have to have.”
It should be noted that both teams were playing on the second night of back-to-back games. But Towns and Dieng had a reason to be tired. Especially Dieng, who played 44 minutes Friday.
“I just couldn’t find my rhythm tonight,” said Dieng, who opened the game guarding Lopez.
The Wolves made an occasional run, helped by 20 points off the bench from Shabazz Muhammad and 14 from Zach LaVine. But, after the opening few moments, the Wolves never got closer than six points.
After winning three of four games heading into the All-Star break, the Wolves have now lost two straight coming out of it. Friday they lost in Memphis to a Grizzlies team hampered by injuries. Saturday they got beat by a Knicks team that hadn’t won previously since Jan. 29.
“We were having a good stretch, and it seems we forget a little bit,” Rubio said. “We have to get back on track and play the way we were doing.”