HOUSTON – On Sunday, the Timberwolves completed their fifth winless road trip of three games or more this season.
After previous disappointments, the Wolves had some savory home matchups on which they could console themselves and boost morale during a trying season. Starting Tuesday, that’s not the case.
The defending champion Golden State Warriors will be in town for the first of two matchups in a 10-day span at Target Center. Also next week, playoff-bound teams the Clippers, Trail Blazers and Jimmy Butler’s 76ers will be making their way to Minneapolis. Then later, Toronto comes for its lone visit while Oklahoma City circles back one more time.
Easy wins are no longer on the schedule for a team that has little to play for down the stretch. The Wolves swear this won’t cause them to go into autopilot, as disheartening as the last road trip was with three lopsided losses.
“Just got to keep digging,” rookie Josh Okogie said. “We’re all basketball players and played most of our lives. No matter what position we may be in, I know that competitive spirit is still in all of us. Wherever our situation may be, whoever we may play, I know we’re going to give it all every single day.”
There has been one quality about the Wolves they have touted after the Butler hijinks and Tom Thibodeau’s firing — that they like each other and want to play for each other. A lot of that has to do with interim coach Ryan Saunders, according to center Karl-Anthony Towns.
“One thing I could definitely say is through all this trials and tribulations and challenges we’ve gone through this team has stayed together,” Towns said. “That’s a great sign to the character of these guys and the unity we’ve built and to the coach that’s leading us.
“Ryan’s done a great job of keeping us together. Regardless of how things have gone really well at times, how things have gone really bad, he’s always kept us together.”
They’re going to need even more camaraderie over these final weeks.
Even if the Wolves are out of the playoffs chase, this stretch of the season offers a chance to evaluate Saunders when he might have a full complement of players at his disposal.
Still that may not happen, at least for a while longer. The Wolves were down two starters, Jeff Teague and Robert Covington, and two key reserves, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, in Sunday’s loss to Houston and it’s unclear when they’ll return.
The injuries added to the Wolves’ troubles this season, but it also helped reveal who they are as competitors. After a loss to Denver on Tuesday, guard Tyus Jones said the Wolves had a bunch of “fighters” in the locker room and praised the effort his teammates’ efforts despite losing by 26.
“You see what kind of character guys you have in the locker room,” Jones said. “We have great character guys. I think we’re all seeing that night in and night out. You couldn’t ask for a much better group.”
Towns said the adversity has been a “two-way street.”
“One, it’ll show the true character of people when things are not at their best,” Towns said. “And it shows people what they have to go back to the gym this summer and work on.
“Our season is not over yet, I’ve always believed and always been the guy that’s played until the last whistle.”
There just may be some more bumps on the road before that last whistle.