BOSTON — Coach Tom Thibodeau thought the Timberwolves didn’t close out on shooters properly in their 123-114 loss to New Orleans on Monday. Forward Taj Gibson said he thought the Wolves needed a little more energy.
Perhaps that extra pep in their step required to eke out a close game on the road might have been there if the Wolves weren’t playing the tail end of a back-to-back set of games. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Both Thibodeau and Gibson tried not to use that as an excuse.
“You can choose to use that if you want to,” Thibodeau said. “There’s an excuse every night. You have to have the mental toughness to be ready to go.”
Added Gibson: “Special teams are going to push forward. We’re still working towards that.”
If they’d like to make the playoffs, they better get there in a hurry. The Wolves fell to 1-3 this season when playing a game on no rest. They’ll play eight more under such circumstances the rest of the season. Six of those will involve travel either from one city to another. The Wolves were 6-9 playing on no days rest a season ago, 5-10 two seasons ago. Those games can make a big difference come April, especially in a tight playoff race.
The Wolves are always at or near the top of NBA teams that travel the most mileage, given their proximity to most of their Western Conference brethren. Dealing with the demands of the schedule, specifically in back-to-back situations, hasn’t gotten easier despite the comforts of charter travel.
“You have to have a routine for back-to-backs,” Thibodeau said. “You don’t want to be lying around your room all day. Then you come out lethargic.”
Thibodeau said the Wolves try to clear 10 hours out of the schedule from the time the team lands in the next city they’re scheduled to play. This enables the Wolves to get ample rest before dealing with the demands of a game day, which includes a walk-through at the hotel instead of a mandatory shootaround at the arena like a game on any other day.
“That’s the biggest thing, being able to sleep,” said rookie Josh Okogie, who is dealing with back-to-backs for the first time in his career. “Even if you get a nap on the plane, nap on the bus, even those naps in between are big. That’s the biggest adjustment, probably sleep.”
However, sleep isn’t the only method of recovery.
“Fluids, fluids, fluids,” guard Tyus Jones said. “And me personally I try to eat a lot of fruit.”
As far as back-to-backs go, the circumstances around Monday’s game weren’t all that bad. The Wolves played at 6 p.m. Eastern time Sunday in Miami before heading to New Orleans, an hour behind Miami. There was plenty of time to rest before tipoff at 7 p.m. But they couldn’t take advantage, even with superstar Anthony Davis out for New Orleans. Before the game, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry was asked if he was going to attack the Wolves any differently because they were on no rest or if he expected them to play at less than 100 percent.
“That’s the most overrated thing in the NBA,” Gentry said.
“If you’re a good basketball team. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing back-to-back, three in four days, five in eight days — if you’re a good basketball team you’re a good basketball team.”
Everyone has to deal with back-to-backs in the NBA, some just deal with them better than others.
Chris Hine covers the Timberwolves for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @ChristopherHine. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org