What an odd situation.
Normally, mired deep in the standings, with the season’s end in sight, Monday’s game with New Orleans and Wednesday’s finale against Oklahoma City would offer a bit of motivation.
Entering Monday’s game the Pelicans and the Thunder were tied for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff race, giving the Timberwolves considerable spoiler potential.
The Wolves also woke up Monday tied with the New York Knicks for the worst record in the league. Simply put, playing the spoiler could spoil things. But things worked out OK.
Playing with an ever-dwindling roster, the Wolves played hard, rebounded surprisingly well and worked hard on defense. They also lost to New Orleans 100-88 at Target Center, a loss that, coupled with New York’s improbable victory in Atlanta, gave the Wolves (16-65) the league’s worst record entering Wednesday’s finale against Oklahoma City.
The worst record means a 25 percent chance of winning the draft lottery that would guarantee the Wolves a draft choice no lower than fourth.
“As players, we can’t think about that,” said Robbie Hummel, who shook off a sore back to get 11 points and a team-high 10 rebounds, the second double-double of his season. Zach LaVine had 24 points and Andrew Wiggins had 15, though both rookies struggled with their shot.
But the Pelicans, playing for their playoff lives, had too much Anthony Davis, who had 24 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks, helping the Pelicans take over the game with a 24-9 run to end the first half that put New Orleans (44-37) up by 15. Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans each added 22 points for New Orleans.
The Wolves never seriously threatened again
Especially with the injury list growing. Kevin Martin was out sick and Chase Budinger left the game in the third quarter with a sprained ankle moments after scoring his 17th and 18th points at the free throw line. With Justin Hamilton nursing a sore hamstring, the Wolves were down to six players by the time the game ended, leaving coach Flip Saunders to wonder how he’d find eight healthy bodies to play Wednesday.
“I told the guys I thought they played hard,” Saunders said. “Had we shot the ball better at times, we might have had an opportunity.’’
Reading the tea leaves
Kevin Garnett’s sore knee kept him out of Monday’s game, and Saunders said he would likely not play in Wednesday’s finale. But for those wondering whether Garnett will return next season, Saunders said his not playing Wednesday should be taken as a good sign.
“I’ll say this,” Saunders said. “If he plays, to me it would be an indication that he doesn’t want to play next year.”
A small appearance Wednesday could be seen as a goodbye gesture, Saunders said. His not playing might be seen as the opposite. “I think he’s looking at this as more not being over,” Saunders said. “He doesn’t want to do anything, in one or two games, that would jeopardize something, would throw him back to not be able to really start and get ready for [next season].”
• The team termed the diagnostic arthroscopic surgery Ricky Rubio had on his left ankle Monday a success. Rubio is expected to make a full recovery this summer. The surgery was done by Dr. Richard Ferkel of the Southern California Orthopedic Institute.
• LaVine said he hadn’t heard from Christian Laettner about breaking Laettner’s rookie single-game scoring record — he had 37 at Golden State on Saturday. But, even with the finale coming Wednesday, LaVine isn’t ready to assume he’ll hold the record when it’s over. “Coming into this year, talking with [Wiggins], I said, ‘One of us is going to get this,’ ” LaVine said. “But he’s probably going to try to get it, too.”