With 53 games gone and one more remaining for now, the Timberwolves will reach the NBA’s extended All-Star break after Wednesday’s home game against Toronto.
Maybe just in time?
Surrendering momentum gained by consecutive victories over the Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago, the Wolves went back to film work and practice Tuesday one last time before that nine-day break trying to figure out what happened during Tuesday’s lifeless 116-102 loss to New Orleans.
“For us, I think the break is coming at the right time,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said. “We’ve pushed these young guys. Look at our roster right now.”
Mitchell reminded that Kevin Garnett, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic are injured and remain out, while veteran Tayshaun Prince played only 19 minutes Tuesday, perhaps not feeling like his usual 35-year-old self.
“You see Tayshaun out there wearing a sleeve [on his leg],” Mitchell said. “He’s limping through. Andre [Miller] is 39 years old, so all we got is our young guys. We’ve probably pushed them up to this point as hard as we can push them.”
Individually, the young Wolves don’t show much fatigue: Andrew Wiggins has seven 30-point games this season, two consecutively in the past week. Gorgui Dieng’s 12-point, 12-rebound game against the Pelicans was his fifth double-double in the past six games. Rookie Karl-Anthony Towns’ 19-point, 12-rebound performance was his eighth consecutive double-double and his 29th this season, which ties Kevin Love’s franchise record for a rookie.
So much, so far, for hitting that rookie wall …
“I don’t know many walls except the one in China,” Towns said. “I haven’t seen it yet.”
Collectively, though, the Wolves are 16-37 after an 8-8 start to the season.
“We won 16 games, we could have won a lot more games,” point guard Ricky Rubio said after Tuesday’s loss. “I don’t think our record reflects the good team we are. But the record is what it is. We deserve it because we didn’t play hard enough or as consistent in the game as we should have.”
Mitchell called Tuesday’s loss the kind of “clunker” every NBA team has a handful of times each season. He has attributed much of his team’s inconsistency to its youth and the demands placed upon players who still could be in college.
“It’s not that we’re overly tired, there’s so much we have to put on our young guys,” Mitchell said. “They have to do everything. They’ve got to be our defenders. They’ve got to play 35, 40 minutes a game. Any success or failure is tied directly to them. That’s the way it should be. That’s the only way to get better. Then you start learning what they all can handle. Who can handle what? How much of it can they handle? It’s tough because everyone wants to win. But in order to win, you have to go through this.”
Mitchell said he, General Manager Milt Newton and owner Glen Taylor will meet as the team heads into its All-Star break to discuss where it has been developing its young players and where it is headed.
“I think we’ve made significant improvement, tonight being the exception,” Mitchell said after Tuesday’s loss.
The NBA’s trade deadline arrives Feb. 18, one day before the Wolves play their first game after the All-Star break. By the time they play at Memphis, Martin likely will be traded.
“We’ll talk and see where we go,” Mitchell said. “A lot of things will shake out as time goes.”