The morning the Timberwolves season tipped off, President Gersson Rosas tried to sound the alarm that there might be nights like Thursday's 135-117 loss to the Trail Blazers in Portland, Ore.
"This team has an upside even this season, but we've got to go through some growing pains and we've got to grow together," Rosas said on Dec. 23.
The growing pains were throbbing against the Blazers, who ran circles around the Wolves in a hair-pulling 47-point second quarter that laid bare everything that was wrong with the Wolves' defense, such as poor transition resistance and not much pushback against the pick-and-roll, with players out of position on a regular basis.
The absences of Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie don't help, but it's also hard to explain how nights like Thursday happen. It was a continuation of recent blowout losses to the Clippers, Lakers and Wizards and showed why the Wolves have the worst defensive efficiency in the NBA.
"Right now we don't have any identity," guard Ricky Rubio said. "We got to find it."
Thursday's loss was a step backward in the Wolves' quest to find an elusive win since Towns dislocated his wrist. They have now lost six straight.
"I think experience gives you [the knowledge] that if you keep working hard, things will work out," Rubio said. "But of course when you're like two or three years into the league, you don't see that. But that being said, we've got to get better, and we've got to get better now."
Damian Lillard dominated the Wolves in scoring a season-high 39 points to go with seven assists and seven rebounds. His perimeter partner, C.J. McCollum, added 20 points while Jusuf Nurkic had 17 points and seven rebounds.
Rosas and coach Ryan Saunders have preached the importance of building a winning culture with the Wolves, but it's hard to see one forming when the blowout losses pile up.
"It's hard if you don't believe in it. I believe in it. Gersson believes in it," Saunders said. "And hey I get it, losses, when they do stack up, it hurts. It hurts. We're all competitors here. But if you focus on the daily work, you gotta trust that in the end, your work is going to shine through, whenever that is."
Whenever can seem a long time away on nights like Thursday.
D'Angelo Russell continued his strong offensive play with 26 points, and that led a very short list of positives for the Wolves. Anthony Edwards scored a career-high 26 on 9-for-21 shooting as he dominated garbage time, while Rubio had 10 assists.
"The last six games, there's not a lot to take," Rubio said.
Portland raced out to 18 fast-break points in the first half, then pushed it past 30 through the third and fourth quarters.
"These guys are playing hard," Saunders said. "Maybe it's not every possession. Maybe it doesn't look like it every possession with some of our defensive mistakes, but I absolutely don't feel that anybody is not giving effort out there."
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.