DENVER – Not all losses in a nine-game losing streak are created equal.
There are those that make you angry, like the one the Timberwolves had in Oklahoma City when they relinquished a late lead in a crazy finish. There are those that cause self-reflection, like when the Wolves lost a few days later in Phoenix and held a team meeting afterward.
Then there are those like Friday in Denver, when the Wolves lost 109-100.
They were without Karl-Anthony Towns, who missed his second consecutive game because of a knee injury. Denver started on fire, hitting 12 of their first 13 shots, then caught fire again late in the third and early in the fourth quarter.
The Wolves didn’t hit their shots. All things considered, their collective mood was to tip their caps and move on to Portland on Saturday.
The locker room didn’t feel like a pall had come over it, as it has at other times during this streak. There was some joking around as the team gathered its stuff for its flight.
The Wolves overall weren’t disappointed with the effort they gave.
“They made a lot of timely shots,” guard Shabazz Napier said. “I think our effort was definitely there. I mean, there’s no moral victories, but I think us and guys, we’re excited for [Saturday].”
Coach Ryan Saunders echoed Napier’s words.
“They showed a lot of character,” Saunders said. “They played hard and competed. We came up on the losing end but our guys competed, and that’s what we ask of them. Obviously wish it was a different result but there were some positives out of it.”
The defense was improved over where it was previously. The Nuggets shot 49% but the Wolves were happy with the shot quality they allowed – Denver just hit enough of them.
As has been a theme this season, the Wolves had a lot of open looks from three-point range but couldn’t convert, hitting just 10 of 42.
It was a loss, so nobody was completely happy. But for a ninth straight loss, it seemed the Wolves were in decent enough spirits to not let the weight of losing crush them.
“There’s going to be some moments of let down where everything does just feel heavy and we always address that as a group,” Saunders said. “Then guys come back and respond. I thought tonight we competed against a very good Denver Nuggets basketball team."
With Towns out of the lineup, Gorgui Dieng has had the opportunity to start and play more minutes. He took advantage of that chance again Friday in scoring 18 points and grabbing six rebounds.
Dieng was 4 of 6 from three-point range and it seemed like he was the only Wolves player who could hit from deep. Dieng did a lot of his damage in the third quarter, when the Wolves cut Denver’s lead to two and he scored 11. Not that Dieng was reveling in his good night.
“Whatever we do when we don’t win, it doesn’t matter,” Dieng said. “I shot the ball well. It’s not luck. It takes time and working on my shots every day and whenever I’m open I’ll shoot it.”
Dieng displayed some chemistry with Andrew Wiggins, who finished with six assists. Three of those assists came on Dieng baskets.
“I love playing with Gorgui,” Wiggins said. “He’s very unselfish. He’s always going to try and do the right thing, whether it’s shooting the open shot, setting screens to get you open and he’s going to but his ass on defense. That’s the kind of player you want.”
Change to the lineup
Saunders gave Napier his first start of the season Friday with Jarrett Culver making his return from flu-like symptoms. Saunders said he wanted to keep Jeff Teague in a bench role, so Napier got the start. Napier had four points on 1 of 6 shooting as he, like his teammates, struggled to hit from the outside.
“The biggest thing for me is going in there, trying to rebound, get some stops and put my hands on steals and being able to pass the ball to guys for open shots, that’s kind of what I do best,” Napier said. “Eventually for me personally, my shots will fall and I’ll be able to impact the team much heavier than I am doing now.”
Napier, who missed 12 games because of a right hamstring strain, is still on a minutes restriction. He played 20 minutes Friday, which is right around his limit, he said.