SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – The nadir for this Timberwolves season came in Sacramento on Nov. 9. That was the night the Wolves concluded a winless five-game road trip and coach Tom Thibodeau pledged things had to change, while Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler said in a somber locker room that the Wolves needed to handle criticism better.
The Wolves traded Butler the next day and the season started trending upward thanks to a lengthy homestand. But despite the good vibes, the Wolves now find themselves leaving Sacramento amid another downswing in their season after the Kings caught fire in the fourth quarter of a 141-130 Wolves loss at the Golden 1 Center that dropped Minnesota to 0-3 on this current trip with Saturday’s game against Phoenix looming as a needed victory.
The most troubling aspect for the Wolves was their defense, which had been among the league’s best since Robert Covington and Dario Saric came in the trade, but the Kings’ 141 points were the most an opponent has scored on the Wolves this season — before or after the trade.
“The disappointment was in our defense,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “If you can’t play defense, you can’t win in this league. We gave them everything.”
The Wolves played just fine offensively — they made 54 percent of their shots — but they couldn’t contain Sacramento from three-point range. The Kings hit a team-record 19 of 38 three-point attempts, including six of seven to open the fourth quarter (three apiece from Yogi Farrell and Buddy Hield) as Sacramento built a 17-point lead that withstood a late Wolves run.
After the game, Rose stood a few lockers downs from where he was in November, this time pointing to a different issue the Wolves need to correct.
“There wasn’t no communication out there. We didn’t get back and how many transition points did they have?” Rose said of the Kings’ 33 fast-break points. “It seems like every time we play against them, they just push the ball. It’s that simple. It’s not very complex.”
But the Kings’ pace, the second fastest in the league, was too hard for the Wolves to slow down.
Former Wolves forward Nemanja Bjelica burned his former team with 25 points on 9-for- 15 shooting. Andrew Wiggins scored 25 on 10-for-15 shooting to lead the Wolves.
“Hopefully we can just throw this game out,” Wiggins said. “They made a lot of shots. We could’ve forced them off the line.”
Forcing the Kings off the line was the Wolves’ party line after the game. For Rose, that boiled down to communication.
“You have to make sure you’re talking. You have to do everything,” Rose said. “Some of the guys, once they contested a shot, they just released. So if you’re not communicating or letting a guy know someone is behind them — you got to talk. Somebody has to pick him up.”
Covington hopes the Wolves will use this loss as a way to refocus on defense. Covington, who missed Saturday’s game against Portland because of right knee soreness, put to rest the idea that his injury (he said afterward “the knee is good”) might be contributing to the Wolves’ lack of defensive success.
“Anytime we scored, they were getting the ball out quick,” Covington said. “They put you in a lot of situations.”
Now the Wolves have to get out of another bad situation they find themselves in on another dreary road trip.