WASHINGTON, D.C. – Every time a glimmer of optimism emerges in the Timberwolves season, a road trip comes along sap their souls.
On Sunday, the Wolves concluded a three-game trip with a 135-121 loss to the Wizards, a team who is without one of its best player in John Wall and has fading hopes of making the playoffs. Like their other games on this three-game trip, it was a game the Wolves could have won, but their defense failed them when it mattered most.
Karl-Anthony Towns was brilliant again for the Wolves, scoring 28 and grabbing 10 rebounds, but the Wizards had three players who finished with more than 20 points – Bobby Portis (26), Bradley Beal (22) and Jabari Parker (22).
The Wolves entered this week with renewed playoff hopes after winning four of five games. But when they boarded the team plane following a win Monday against Sacramento, those hopes stayed behind to freeze in the Minnesota winter.
You can file this 0-3 trip, that featured losses Atlanta and Indiana, in the trash alongside a few other trips the Wolves have taken. There was an 0-3 trip in early February that allowed others in the Western Conference to gain ground on the Wolves in the Western Conference playoff race. The Wolves entered a four-game trip in early December 9-3 since the Jimmy Butler trade, only to have Robert Covington miss the first game of that West Coast swing. It was the start of Covington’s knee issues this season and an 0-4 trip for the Wolves that preceded Tom Thibodeau’s ouster.
Then there was a winless five-game trip at the beginning of the season, the one that put the Wolves in a 4-9 hole and caused them to deal Butler.
The road has been bumpy for the Wolves, to say the least.
So what gives? Why is it so hard for the Wolves to win on the road, where they are 9-24 this season?
“It’s just hard to get a win, period, in this league,” forward Anthony Tolliver said. “The road just amplifies it more. You don’t have your sixth man, the crowd behind you, going against you actually. It’s tough. Tough to get a win period. When you’re on the road, you can’t make a bunch of mistakes. We shot ourselves in the foot the last few games with turnovers and bad plays that break our own momentum.”
Interim coach Ryan Saunders blamed Sunday’s loss on a lack of defensive intensity.
“It’s hard to win in the NBA,” Saunders said. “It’s even harder to win on the road. It’s even harder to win on the road in the NBA when your defensive intensity is not there. It hasn’t been there in these three games here.”
But if you go back over the Wolves’ road trips this season, that has been the common denominator. Scoring has been there. The defense hasn’t.
“Honestly, I don’t even know (why),” Jeff Teague said. “Just kind of go day by day. It’s starting to get bad. It’s not looking good.”