The Timberwolves’ game against Atlanta on Wednesday was, perhaps for a lack of a better word, about opportunity.
As in, anyone in uniform was likely to get an opportunity to play.
The game came in between news of a roster-altering trade and its official announcement, which came after the game ended. So all of those players heading out were gone, but new ones hadn’t arrived. That meant some interesting lineup combinations and a very short bench.
That was the word Wolves coach Ryan Saunders used before the game, which began with Kelan Martin and Josh Okogie in the starting lineup and a bench filled with players as familiar with Des Moines as they are Minneapolis. As in: “A lot of young guys will get some opportunities tonight,’’ he said before the game. “And that’s one of the greatest things in professional sports.’’
Well, not always.
Once again lacking on defense and with intensity waxing and — too often — waning, the shorthanded Wolves lost their 13th straight game, 127-120, to an Atlanta team that has the third worst record in the NBA, one game worse than the Wolves.
An emotional 24 hours ended on another down note.
“We just didn’t play, we didn’t execute the game plan, we didn’t do what we needed to do,’’ said center Karl-Anthony Towns, who scored 21 points with 11 rebounds but, like the rest of the team Wednesday, was inconsistent.
“We put ourselves into a hole, tried to fight back, but it was too late,’’ he said.
The Wolves never led. They were down 12 after a quarter, eight at the half, 19 entering the fourth and 16 late, before one final push made the final score closer than the game appeared. The players acquired in the blockbuster trade will arrive this week and the Wolves will move on, but the same problem remains unsolved: consistency.
“Search,’’ Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said when asked what it will take to find consistent effort. “Search in a number of ways. We’ll find it. We will. But it takes time, sometimes. But you run out of time; you don’t want to have a season pass you by.’’
Trae Young had 38 points and John Collins 27 for the Hawks (14-38), who shot 52.4% overall and made more than 40% of their 32 three-pointers.
The Wolves? Using myriad combinations, they got 25 points from Andrew Wiggins, 23 from Okogie.
Afterward, Saunders said he liked what Jordan McLaughlin (15 points, seven assists) and Okogie showed. But, in a season when evaluation of the team’s personnel is paramount, figuring out who will play hard is part of the process, Saunders said. But even he showed a bit of frustration, during a third-quarter timeout, with his team down 20 points.
“Hey, it’s a man’s league,’’ he said. “I think we found some things at some times. But we have to find more within ourselves. … We all need to be active participants in our rescue, I’d say.’’
It can’t happen soon enough, Towns said. “I’ve been losing for a long time,’’ he said. “I’m not trying to do that any more. Every possession means a lot. You obviously see my patience running low with a lot of things. So, no excuses. We’ve got to get it done.’’
With the newly configured roster the Wolves will try to do that, starting Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers. The team is 50 games into the season, with the All-Star break looming. “We’ve just got to do a lot better all around,’’ Towns said.