Last season, the road was cold to the Timberwolves even when the weather was warm.
The Wolves’ two longest road trips came early in the season, one in November and one in December, a five-gamer and a four-gamer, respectively. Their combined record on those trips was 0-9.
The first 0-5 trip accelerated Jimmy Butler’s exit, as the Wolves traded him to the 76ers after concluding a miserable West Coast swing in Sacramento.
The second 0-4 trip accelerated Tom Thibodeau’s exit. The Wolves were 9-3 after the Butler trade, only to drop four games on another trip out west. Less than a month later, Thibodeau was gone.
The Wolves are embarking on the first of two four-game trips this month, with the first stop coming Wednesday at Dallas, and they are in seventh place in the Western Conference. There is reason to think these trips won’t be a disaster for them. Their road record (7-2) is the primary one, and the Wolves are confident they are better equipped to handle these longer stints away from home, which could be a welcome respite from a dreadful 3-7 record at home.
“I guess it’s like a pack mentality on the road,” guard Jeff Teague said. “Where you’re by yourself and the only the group of guys that are on the floor with you and on the bench that are rooting for you. We just bond together. I think at home we just kind of rely on the crowd and relax a little.”
It has helped that the Wolves have faced easier competition away from home. The combined record of their road opponents this season was 76-108 entering Tuesday. Their home opponents had a record of 93-85. The competition ticks up over the next few weeks both on the road and away from home, with the Lakers, Mavericks, Clippers, Nuggets and Jazz all upcoming in the next 11 games.
“We’ve gotten much better as far as our mind-set, just being locked in mentally on the road,” forward Robert Covington said. “It just comes from everybody buying in. It speaks for itself.”
Coach Ryan Saunders and President Gersson Rosas have altered how the Wolves go about their business on the road. There are fewer shootarounds the day of a game, with the Wolves usually opting to practice the day before and having that serve as their main preparation for the game.
There are still walkthroughs the day of a game in hotel conference rooms and players can still go shoot if they want, but this schedule allows players to rest more while still being able to get some work in should they choose. It also causes less mental fatigue, Saunders said.
“Do these guys need a morning to rest where they’re not having to get up and listen to me basically four extra times? Film, post practice … things like that,” Saunders said. “We want to be aware of that.”
The Wolves are also aware of their recent shoddy history on the road. It wasn’t just limited to those two early trips last season. There were three 0-3 road trips in February and March that smashed whatever slim playoff hopes they had.
That’s going to change this year, players said.
“We enjoy playing on the road,” Teague said. “I think it’s where we’re comfortable, and it’s a good test for us.”