There have been moments over the past few games where it seemed the Timberwolves would end their seven-game losing streak. They’ve gone into halftime each of the past three games with either a lead or within striking distance of their opponents.
But the third quarter is where things start to come undone. In each of the past three games, opponents outscored the Wolves by at least 12 points in those 12 minutes, continuing a trend of the third quarter being the Wolves’ worst this season. Their net rating third quarters is minus-9.9, which is 27th in the NBA.
They rate 22nd in first quarter rating (-3.0), 12th in the second (2.9) and 17th in the fourth (-1.1).
So what gives?
“I have a couple ideas,” coach Ryan Saunders said.
Saunders said the Wolves are looking into how they handle halftime, perhaps letting players go to the court a little earlier so they have more time to warm up. Saunders is also concerned about the lackluster third quarters having a rollover effect.
“I think a lot of times the, ‘Here we go again,’ type of mind-set can happen,” Saunders said.
Added guard Josh Okogie: “We’ve got to stay together. Continue to stay together, trust the process, trust the system, and I think we’ll be all right.”
In the past two seasons, Andrew Wiggins’ free-throw percentage shrunk to career lows. Wiggins was a 64% free-throw shooter two seasons and 70% a season ago. Those represented his worst numbers of his career.
But this season, free-throw shooting has been one of the parts of Wiggins’ game that has undergone a resurgence. Wiggins is back shooting 75% from the line, besting his career average of 74%, on 5.4 attempts per game (which has also increased from the past two seasons).
“Right now, I feel like I’m in a good rhythm, and I’m comfortable there and it makes me want to get aggressive and get there more,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins said the uptick has come in part from concentration at the line. Saunders gave some recognition for Wiggins’ overall improvement to Mychal Johnson, Wiggins’ girlfriend, who played basketball at Notre Dame.
“He’s much more confident this year, too, just in general,” Saunders said. “You notice that in just his daily interactions. I give a lot of credit to him. And I give a lot of credit also to his girlfriend Mychal. She was a great player at Notre Dame herself. I think she’s a great influence on him that way, so I give her a lot of credit.”
Saunders has said one of the biggest problems with the Wolves defense of late is its lack of physicality. How do the players go about improving that?
Okogie had a philosophical take.
“I mean it’s just really literally being more physical,” Okogie said. “Stop playing or defending so passively. Kind of like almost fouling somebody. Just make them feel you.”
Okogie said the Wolves got down to doing that in the fourth quarter of their loss to the Clippers on Friday.
“We made them turn the ball over, take even tougher shots than they were taking before,” Okogie said. “We were able to go on a surge and comeback. But we fell short. But if we’re able to do that for four quarters, then it might have been a different story.”