TORONTO – The Timberwolves remain winless at Toronto since Andrew Wiggins, now 22, was an 8-year-old living in the city, but there is good news even after Tuesday’s 109-104 loss at Air Canada Centre:
Their January is over.
The Wolves finished a rugged month in which they played 17 games — and didn’t have more than a day off between any of them — by going 9-8 despite winning only one of nine road games.
Thanks, 10-game home winning streak …
They still haven’t won in Toronto since Jan. 21, 2004, which was little more than a month before Wiggins’ ninth birthday.
They were outdone this time not so much by All-Star guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry as they were by role player Jakob Poeltl’s four offensive rebounds and backup guard Fred VanVleet’s relentless energy two days after he became a first-time daddy.
Three of Poeltl’s four such rebounds came during the Raptors’ telling 14-4 run that opened the fourth quarter and turned the game after the Wolves had led by 13 points early in the second quarter but couldn’t sustain it.
They couldn’t because of Poeltl’s timeliness with tipped-in baskets and putback layups and because of their own inability to make free throws with the game on the line. They missed four within about two minutes midway through the fourth quarter, when they tried unsuccessfully to fight back after the Raptors turned a two-point deficit into an eight-point lead.
Wolves star Jimmy Butler — usually as clutch as they get — missed three of those.
“Not often,” Wiggins said, “but he’s human.”
The Raptors attempted only two more free throws than the Wolves’ 24, but they outscored them by seven at the foul line when the Wolves went 15-for-24 there.
“We’ve been a great free-throw shooting team all year,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You’re going to have some nights like that. We need to get back into the gym, practice and fix some things.”
The Wolves finally will have some practice time. Their 17 January games were the most of any team. They played seven of the month’s last nine games on the road and Tuesday’s game was the second part of back-to-back games twice in a week.
“Sometimes it works out that way,” Thibodeau said. “We just went through it. Every team goes through theirs. You have to maximize your time. You have to find ways to win. I think we had a winning month, but we start a new one now. We have to make sure we’re right and ready, from the beginning.
“This is going to be a fight the rest of the year. How badly do we want to do it?”
Once in third place in the Western Conference, the Wolves end their January schedule in fourth, with improving Oklahoma City coming up mighty fast now one half-game behind them.
The Wolves have had precious little time to practice since Christmas. Now they will play five of their seven games before All-Star break at home and they’ll have three consecutive days — count ’em! — off next week. A week later comes the seven-day All-Star break.
March’s schedule, on paper, looks favorable, too, for a 32-22 team that has 28 regular-season games left.
“Doesn’t matter what month it is, what day it is, what year it is,” Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “You step on the court as the Minnesota Timberwolves, you have to find ways to win. We didn’t do that tonight.”
The Wolves haven’t lost three consecutive games all season, with Thursday’s game against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee their next big test to stop their losing streak at two.
They haven’t lost a home game since Dec. 16 against Phoenix.
“I think we did pretty well in January,” Wolves forward Nemanja Bjelica said. “We just have to keep winning at home.”