WASHINGTON – When asked why the Timberwolves lacked the required defensive intensity during a 135-121 loss to the Wizards on Sunday, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Tolliver both began their answers the same way before trying to offer an explanation: “I don’t know.”
Derrick Rose offered a synonymous response.
“I really can’t put a finger on it,” Rose said.
Jeff Teague was more blunt.
“We’re just not really good right now,” Teague said.
Choruses of Wolves fans will nod at Teague’s statement in the wake of a road trip that has sent the Wolves from a team with renewed playoff hopes to one that is limping back to Minnesota. The Wolves went 0-3 on this trip, and you can chart their star-crossed season using their four winless road trips of three or more games.
“It’s hard to win in the NBA. It’s even harder to win on the road,” interim coach Ryan Saunders said. “It’s even harder to win on the road in the NBA when your defensive intensity is not there. It hasn’t been there in these three games here.”
The first road calamity came in November, when the Wolves went 0-5 on a trip out West that plunged their record to 4-9 and precipitated the Jimmy Butler trade to Philadelphia.
After the Wolves went 9-3 in the wake of the trade, defensive stalwart Robert Covington sat out the first of a four-game winless Western road trip in December because of right knee problems that have cost him more than two months of games. That 0-4 trip help expedite Tom Thibodeau’s firing.
In early February, the Wolves had three winnable games against Memphis, Orlando and New Orleans as they were still alive in the Western Conference playoff hunt. They went 0-3.
Then came this week, which followed a stretch of four wins in five games. Another 0-3 record with losses to Atlanta, Indiana and now Washington.
“They weigh on you,” Tolliver said. “Just like winning can have a huge effect on you positively, then you start racking up losses, it can weigh on you as well.”
Saunders didn’t raise his voice, but it was clear he was angry with the Wolves’ effort on defense. Washington scored 15 second-chance points in the first quarter, while Jabari Parker came off the Wizards bench to score 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting. Bobby Portis’ 26 points canceled out a strong effort from Towns (28 points) and a 53 percent shooting effort from the Wolves.
Washington outscored the Wolves 35-23 in the third quarter to take a 97-87 lead, and the visitors never got much closer.
“We didn’t take much of anything away — 135 points,” Saunders said. “That’s a lot of points. I’d like to see if our schemes would’ve worked. But we just didn’t take anything away.”
Players did their best to vocalize what intangibles they were lacking on that end of the floor.
“It’s hard to tell,” Tolliver said. “Some nights, just can’t figure it out and for some reason we just couldn’t get any sparks.”
Instead they returned home to the frigid Minnesota winter, no sparks to light a fire to get through another long night.
“We could all say it doesn’t hurt or whatever the case may be, but for me it hurts,” Towns said. “It weighs heavy on me. We’ve had a lot of long nights, especially tonight.”