The Timberwolves moved Sunday’s start time against Dallas back 90 minutes to 4 p.m. so it wouldn’t conflict with the Vikings’ noon NFL playoff game across town against Seattle.
The change only delayed what has become the inevitable these last weeks.
Sunday’s 93-87 defeat to the Mavericks was the Wolves’ sixth in a row, their 10th in 11 games and yet another game in which they struggled to score enough.
They haven’t scored 100 points since winning at Brooklyn five days before Christmas. Their only other victory since beating the Nets 100-85 that Sunday afternoon was a 94-80 home victory over Utah on Dec. 30.
On Sunday, two consecutive bad passes — one by veteran guard Andre Miller, the other by young forward Adreian Payne — created two third-quarter turnovers the Mavericks turned into a dunk and a layup. In a matter of 2½ minutes, the Wolves went from trailing by two points to a 68-55 deficit by quarter’s end, a closing 12-1 Dallas run that essentially won the game.
Once 11-16 after they beat Brooklyn, the Wolves now are 12-26 and fading fast in the Western Conference, where only New Orleans and the Los Angeles Lakers trail them.
“When you’re going through tough times, that’s when you find out who you got,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said. “That’s when you find out who the keepers are, not when times are good. You don’t know when everything is good, but as soon as you go through tough times, that’s when you find out who are the mentally tough people.”
Times are tough, and they were again Sunday, when Andrew Wiggins’ 21 points and Shabazz Muhammad’s 16 points off the bench weren’t nearly enough.
“We’re trying not to let a losing mentality set in, but it’s tough,” Miller said. “We have a lot of young guys, a lot of inexperienced guys just going out there, trying to put a good 48 minutes together.”
Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio hears the clock ticking once again on his team after Mavericks All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki made like it was 2007 all over again with a 29-point afternoon that included four three-pointers made.
“We’ve got to focus and we’ve got to start winning games,” Rubio said. “We kind of go to the game like we’ve got time. We don’t got time. It’s now or it’s going to be another season without making the playoff, another season without fighting. That’s not who we want to be. We want to learn how to win and how to fight every single game, no matter what.”
Afterward, Mitchell lamented an afternoon in which the Wolves held Dallas to two points during the third quarter’s first six minutes and yet got outscored 20-13 in the quarter because they couldn’t score themselves. He called it a shortcoming that gives them too little margin for error and magnifies the mistakes a young team makes. Trailing by 12 points with less than five minutes left, the Wolves twice in the final two minutes pulled within four points but couldn’t get any closer.
Asked if his team still retains its fight or if he fears the losing is becoming routine, Mitchell said: “We don’t have a choice. We can’t quit … It’s not the end of the world. No one picked us to win the championship this year, so we’ve just got to continue to play, continue to improve and understand every night is an opportunity to get better and change our fortunes. The only people who can change it are the guys sitting in the locker room.”