Afterward an exasperated Sam Mitchell said that maybe his young team, still learning how to walk in NBA terms, has to figure out a way to run more. To score, at least a little.
“Story of our life,” the Wolves interim coach said.
Ricky Rubio was almost at a loss for words. “I don’t know what to say,” he said. “It’s hard.”
A day after a 90-minute air-clearing team meeting, with veteran center Nikola Pekovic making his season debut and Kevin Martin returning for the first time in eight games, and at Target Center on Wednesday against a Denver team that had lost six in a row, it seemed like the right time for the Wolves’ skid to end.
In a 78-74 loss to the Nuggets, the Wolves played with energy and played one of their best defensive games of the season. And they lost, because they quite literally couldn’t shoot straight.
Up by 10 points with 5 minutes, 38 seconds left in the third quarter, the Wolves scored only 18 points in the final 17:36. That included a 2-for-20 shooting performance in the fourth quarter, 12 minutes of play in which the two teams combined to score 19 points.
It was the Wolves’ fourth consecutive loss, their eighth in nine games. And it was the ninth time this season they have built a double-digit lead only to lose.
And this one hurt.
“We have to win,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said after scoring 14 points with 14 rebounds. “We have to change the tide. We can’t keep losing these games.”
The team has to find a way to score. The Wolves (12-24) set season lows in points (74) and second-half points (30), and scored only nine in the fourth quarter. It was the 15th time in team history the Wolves failed to score 10 points in a quarter.
And yet it was a close game, thanks to a Wolves defense that held Denver to 35.8 percent shooting.
The Wolves used a 12-2 spurt to build that 10-point lead. But the Nuggets (13-23) finished the quarter on a 20-9 run to take a 66-65 lead into the fourth quarter. Denver never trailed again.
Danilo Gallinari scored 10 of his 20 points in that third quarter. Backup big man Jusuf Nurkic (15 points, 10 rebounds) was the only other Denver player to score in double figures.
Andrew Wiggins scored 11, but took 14 shots, missing two at the end with the Wolves two points down. Pekovic scored 12 points in 16 minutes.
“I thought the effort, concentration, focus, the will to win was there,” Mitchell said. “I thought we did everything a team should to do win a game. But we didn’t score enough. The guys responded. But it’s been the story of our season.”
Mitchell said he would try to tweak the offense, but what else can he do? One thing is to try to get more transition baskets. On that point Rubio agreed.
“Our strength is running in the open court,” he said. “And I don’t know. Maybe we’re too young. Because we’re struggling a little bit, so we want to control everything. But we need to know our strength. And is running up and down the court and getting easy baskets.”
Nothing is coming easy lately.
“We have to keep tweaking things to be able to score the ball a little bit,” Mitchell said. “We’re not a great shooting team. It’s something we have to continue to teach and work on.”