It was the Wolves who should have been the desperate team, coach Ryan Saunders said.
It was his team that should have played with energy. Not the winless Washington Wizards, who came to Target Center Friday night 0-5, finishing up a back-to-back, with star guard Russell Westbrook missing the game to get some rest.
But it was Washington. A quick Wizards start put the Wolves on their heels. And then a third-quarter thrashing took a close game and put it out of reach in a 130-101 loss to Washington that was the third straight for the Wolves (2-3).
The Wolves trailed by 16 early in the second quarter, but rallied to within three at the half. But it all went downhill in the third, a 40-14 Washington run that turned the final quarter into junk time.
"Our energy was low,'' Saunders said. "We tried to play our way and kind of just feel our way into things and you can't do that against a team that's desperate. You don't look at Washington's record. If you watch their games, they've done some good things. … They were desperate tonight.''
And so the Wolves are in a rather desperate situation early in this season, having lost three straight games by an average of 127 points. Playing without Karl-Anthony Towns and, to a certain extent, Josh Okogie, has been a difficult adjustment. But it doesn't explain Friday.
Bradley Beal led all scorers with 31 points. He hit 12 of 20 shots, got seven assists, and spent the fourth quarter on the bench. He was one of eight Washington players in double figures. The Wi zards shot 55%, made 16 of 33 three-pointers, turned 20 Wolves turnovers into 33 points and scored 56 points in the paint. Center Thomas Bryant had 18 points and seven rebounds, making all seven of his shots.
The Washington lead grew to 37 points early in the fourth quarter before the Wolves bench — led by rookie Anthony Edwards, made the final score a bit closer.
But again, why would the Wolves' energy be so low?
"I wish I had that full answer,'' said Saunders, who said the team had a very strong practice Thursday. "When you lose a player like KAT, and even a player of Josh's heart and the spirit he has, you're trying to find it other places. When things get tough, sometimes it can be tough to find that. We gotta find it.''
Malik Beasley scored 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting. Naz Reid and Edwards each had 17, with 15 of Edwards' points coming in the fourth quarter. Jake Layman had nine of his 12 points in the second quarter as the Wolves pulled within three. D'Angelo Russell scored 14 on 6-for-16 shooting and was a minus-32 in 26 minutes.
The Wolves struggled on both ends of the court. They were vulnerable both on the perimeter and in the paint. Still trying to find their way without Towns, the Wolves appeared to try to do too much on offense.
"As a team, when you're losing or not doing things right, you try to do extra on your own,'' Beasley said. "And I feel like we're doing that, rather than coming together as a team. But once we do that, once we figure things out — including myself — we'll play like a great team. We're only five games in.''