In one day, Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell's message went from embarrassment to empowerment.
In Saturday's 95-85 loss to Milwaukee — one in which his team coughed up a 17-point first-half lead — Mitchell left many of his young players in the game in a one-sided fourth quarter hoping a dose of embarrassment would push the youngsters to compete better.
Sunday, after a competitive practice devoted in large part to defensive basics, Mitchell brought Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins into his office for a long chat.
And the message was a little different. Mitchell knows he's asking a lot from both players — maybe too much to ask from a pair of 20-year-olds — but they have to deliver.
"[Sunday] we practice, we simplified things," Mitchell said. "We told them, you have to compete. That's the most important thing. They have to focus for 48 minutes of basketball."
Mitchell believes his team's young players are capable but need to concentrate better and for longer. He used the analogy of a golf pro he often plays with who has all the tools of top PGA Tour players. "He said, 'The difference between me and Jordan Spieth or Tiger Woods? I can't stay focused for five hours in a round of golf. They can.' "
This might echo, in a way, what point guard Ricky Rubio said after Saturday's game, when he criticized the team for its play after building a quick 22-5 lead.
Mitchell left Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad in the game for the entire fourth quarter, even after the Bucks opened it with a 13-1 run to essentially put the game away.
Towns said he was OK with the lesson Mitchell was trying to impart.
"Those are learning experiences," said Towns, who struggled with eight points on 4-for-17 shooting. "I think we did a lot of great things, especially in the first quarter when we got up by a large margin. It seemed our shooting percentage kept going down. The shots that we normally make were going in and out. We need to close out games."
Wolves center Nikola Pekovic, still recovering from surgery on his Achilles' tendon, practiced for the first time in nearly 10 months Sunday. Not a bad way to celebrate his 30th birthday.
Pekovic last played in a game March 11. He had the surgery in April and was cleared for full practice this week. Sunday was his first opportunity.
"It's been a long, long time," Pekovic said. "Close to a year. It was good, just good being out there, doing something."
Pekovic has gone from doing individual workouts to controlled one-on-one scrimmaging and finally to full contact. He took part in Sunday's five-on-five workouts and said he came out feeling OK, but he felt his relative lack of conditioning. "It will be an adjustment," he said.
Pekovic is still dealing with a low level of pain in the ankle that will probably be there going forward. But it is at a level he can tolerate. Now it's just a matter of getting some more practice in before he attempts to play in a game.
"Hopefully just a little more time," he said.
Drawing a crowd
Because Philadelphia is such a short drive from his hometown in New Jersey, Towns said he expects a lot of friends and family to attend Monday's game against the Sixers. One friend won't have to travel far. One of his old high school teammates, Quenton DeCosey, plays for Temple, leading the Owls with a 14.9-point scoring average.