PORTLAND, ORE. – Robert Covington was all alone, headed for an easy layup or dunk. No Portland player was near him.
It was going to be two of the easiest points in Covington’s career, and two the Timberwolves needed down six with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. But somehow, he lost control of the ball, it hit off his knee and went out of bounds. Covington couldn’t help but laugh.
“You can do nothing but shake your head and go on to the next play,” Covington said.
Such is the life for a team that has now lost 10 consecutive games, the latest another decent effort without center Karl-Anthony Towns that ended up in a 113-106 loss at the Moda Center to the Trail Blazers.
It seems too cruel that this would happen to Covington and the Wolves at this moment, when it seems like they are due for a break.
“For myself, I was just laughing with him … ” said guard Shabazz Napier, who had 18 points. “It’s just sometimes the ball doesn’t roll your way.”
It hasn’t been rolling, bouncing or flying the Wolves all month.
Saturday’s game was a lot like Friday’s loss to Denver. The Wolves played better defense, and that has been much improved over the last few games. But of course once the defense gets better, the offense starts to slump.
Towns’ absence is a big reason for that. That allowed Hassan Whiteside to camp out near the rim to get seven blocks to go with 16 points and 22 rebounds.
“I feel like I’m the best rim protector in the league,” Whiteside said.
If all you saw was Saturday, you’d agree.
Andrew Wiggins had 33 points on 13 of 24 shooting, but the Wolves couldn’t enough baskets to counter Portland sharpshooters Damian Lillard (29 points) and C.J. McCollum (26), even though the Wolves did limit them to 43% shooting.
“The defense is definitely better,” coach Ryan Saunders said. “We’ve done a number of things that I wanted our guys to do … so that’s progress.”
Just not progress enough to break the streak. The Wolves were playing catch up all game and never led by more than one. In the fourth quarter, they tied the score twice, 85-85 and 93-93, but each time Portland would string together a few stops and a few buckets to keep the Wolves at arms’ length. Then came Covington’s mishap with the score 103-97.
“It’s the NBA. Nothing surprises me,” Saunders said of the play. “I’ve seen a lot on this streak too. We just got to keep our heads and we got to fail quickly.”
But the Wolves have been failing quickly for three weeks now. With each game, they try to take some positives with them, like the defense, which could only get better from where it was at the beginning of this streak when it was the worst in the NBA for a stretch of time.
“Our offense is just not really good right now, so we just try to rely on our defense to get some stops, get some easy scores,” said Jeff Teague, who had 18 points. “We’re competing on that end, hopefully shots can start falling.”
Getting Towns back will help with that.
“[We miss] his ability to stretch the defense, being a focal point of the offense and probably the main person on the other team’s scouting report,” Teague said. “It takes a lot of pressure off all of us.”
Although the Wolves did make 41% of their three-pointers, another encouraging sign, but another encouraging sign that ultimately felt empty.
“There were just some winning plays that we couldn’t make down the stretch,” Saunders said.
Winning plays have been nowhere in sight of late.