DETROIT – Wednesday was a reminder of the mercurial nature of the Timberwolves. After a four-game win streak, they lost by 17 to the Pistons, the worst team in the Eastern Conference, for the second time in a two-week span.

The Wolves are 20-22 as they enter the second half of the season, when they hope Karl-Anthony Towns will return from a right calf injury he suffered Nov. 28.

"We're not where we want to be," guard Austin Rivers said. "But I try to not overanalyze and just think about what we've done lately. We've won four of the last five. We're just going to go from there. You have to hang your hat on positivity in this league."

That has been hard to do for a fan base that had high expectations following the trade for center Rudy Gobert. Two games below .500 is not what anyone had envisioned at this point in the season, but the silver lining the Wolves are clinging to is their place in the standings. They are the No. 10 seed but still only three games back of the No. 4 seed in a jumbled, messy Western Conference.

"We don't need to be down," Rivers said. "We're three, four games out from being the fourth spot. ... We just got to stay the course."

Staying the course would be good for the Wolves in some areas — such as how they improved to owning the third-best field-goal percentage (49.1) in the league — but they need to change course as it relates to others. Here are four numbers that define their season.


Games the Wolves have played with Towns and without him. Their record is 10-11 in both cases.

The Wolves were struggling to find the right chemistry on both ends of the floor with Towns and Gobert playing at the same time. Their advanced metrics have stayed relatively even when Towns is on or off the floor. They have a net rating of -0.9 with him on it and 0.1 when he is off it.

Ultimately, this team will have to figure out how best to utilize Towns. That's what's most unfortunate about this time frame. No matter what they do or how well they play, there's only so much they can glean from playing without Towns, because his presence will change the dynamic on the floor so much when he's back.

"That's the hard thing about it," guard D'Angelo Russell said. "You play with everybody. Then the groups are never out there together and you need to actually play together. It's hard on the players and who you're playing with."

Anthony Edwards has taken the ball in his hands much more since Towns went out, and coach Chris Finch has said when Towns returns that Edwards will still have the ball in his hands more. He has suggested using Towns in the corner as a potential shooter.

"When he come back we're going to look different," Edwards said. "Right now, we're trying to figure it out still so when we get him back, it might be a little easier."

The Wolves offense has a significant difference with and without Edwards. When Edwards is on the floor, the Wolves have an offensive efficiency of 114.2. That would rank ninth in the league. When he's not on the floor, it plummets to 103.1, which would be 5.6 points per 100 possessions behind the 30th team in the league, Charlotte.

"We've seen what the team with the ball in Anthony's hands looks like a little bit more. He's done a great job of finding consistency in his game," Finch said.

Finch also indicated the Wolves have become more versatile defensively with Towns out.

"Our ability to do different things defensively has taken root and that was going to have to happen with or without KAT, but it's happened without him," he said.


Wolves' net rating in the third quarter.

The Wolves have a positive net rating in the other three quarters that adds to plus-9.9, but those get obliterated by the eyesores that are their third-quarter performances. When asked why he thought third quarters have proven so difficult, Gobert replied: "I don't know."

He then elaborated.

"But a lot of it is the same things [as Wednesday's game]," Gobert said. "Just our intensity, effort defensively."

The Wolves know their third quarters have been a problem, they have talked about it, tried to put a renewed emphasis on starting strong after halftime, and they were doing so during their recent four-game win streak. But when the Wolves lose, they can usually point to a weak third quarter as a big reason. No amount of talking has fixed it.


Wolves' defensive rebounding percentage, 28th in the league.

Having someone as tall as Towns off the floor is bound to make any team worse when it comes to rebounding, but the Wolves weren't great at this when Towns was on the floor. This is also a problem that predates Gobert's arrival, for those who want to say the trade has been the biggest issue with the roster.

The Wolves were also 28th in that statistic last season. Rebounding percentage has cost them in a number of games this season. Several times — in the first loss to Detroit, a loss at New Orleans and a loss at Miami — opponents have benefited from late-game, second-chance opportunities. The Wolves thought Gobert could help them when it came to rebounding, and he's still sixth in the league with 8.4 defensive rebounds per game. But the Wolves still have not become consistent enough in rebounding long misses that go over Gobert's head. That's on the team's guards.

Finch said he thought he saw progress during the recent win streak.

"Our defensive rebounding numbers still aren't great, but it feels like for the most part we're trying to do the right things there too," Finch said.

But the numbers say the Wolves still have a long way to go, and this roster may just be a bad mix when it comes to this area.


Wolves turnovers per game, 28th in the league.

Turnovers don't necessarily indicate that everything is wrong with an offense. For instance, the Warriors were 29th in turnovers a season ago and won the NBA championship.

But the kind of turnovers the Wolves have are the difference. They want to play with ball movement instead of isolation. Ball movement can naturally lead to more turnovers than isolation-heavy basketball, but it is typically more efficient overall, even with the greater number of turnovers factored in. It's when the Wolves have the wrong kind of turnovers that Finch gets irked.

"It's crazy, like, turnovers sometimes come from a reluctance to pass," Finch said. "There was a lot of that [earlier in the season]. Playing in small spaces, trying to drive into a crowd. A lot of that, a lot of just carelessness too."

The Wolves will likely look much different when Towns is on the floor, but some of those habits that were present earlier in the season could pop up again.