MEMPHIS – The Timberwolves rounded the corner on their season with Friday’s 109-104 loss at Memphis. And down the home stretch they come these final two months, still set on winning at least as many of their remaining games as they lose.
That’s a tall objective for a team that began the season 17-37 and returned from a nine-day All Star break with a loss to a Grizzlies team that held itself together with chewing gum, baling wire and veteran moxie.
Youthful optimism and three victories in four games before that long break had the Wolves thinking big, aimed at playing at least .500 ball their final 28 games. “That’s the goal,” Andrew Wiggins said.
On Friday, they made all of their 31 free throws — the most makes in franchise history without a miss —and joined the modern NBA by making 11 three-pointers, a season high by two. Yet they were outdone by the Grizzlies’ famed physicality and their own carelessness, to the tune of 20 turnovers that cost them the game.
“I liked everything we did,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said, “but you just can’t turn it over 20 times.”
With All-Star center Marc Gasol out indefinitely because of a fractured foot, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green dealt away before Thursday’s trade deadline and Tony Allen injured early in Friday’s game, the Grizzlies rallied from 10-point deficits in both the second and third quarters.
They did so by flexing their remaining muscle and with point guard Mike Conley’s playmaking and scoring. Ageless Vince Carter’s 73-foot, three-point heave that ended the third quarter didn’t hurt any, either.
In fact, it probably swung the game.
“It was perfect,” Conley said. “It looked like he knew what he was doing. We call it the ‘game changer.’ ”
Carter never would have flung the ball seemingly through the FedEx Forum rafters if it hadn’t been for the Wolves’ 17th turnover, a bad pass committed by rookie Tyus Jones playing his first meaningful minutes since Jan. 4.
Zach LaVine committed four of those 20 turnovers but he made eight of his first 10 shots, including his first four threes, and scored 22 points in 26 minutes. Kevin Martin had four turnovers as well in his first game action since Jan. 23. Ricky Rubio, Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng each had three.
“Some dumb passes, not the right ones,” LaVine said. “We played well enough to win.”
Carter’s three-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer brought Memphis within 81-76.
“It kind of sucked the life out of us,” Mitchell said. “It just kind of shocked us.”
The Grizzlies then went on to outscore the Wolves 33-23 in a fourth quarter when the visitors went 2-for-11 for a long stretch and the home team’s 8-0 run turned a 91-90 deficit with fewer than six minutes left into a 98-91 lead with 3:41 left.
The Wolves got within a mere point in the final 95 seconds.
They had hoped to come out of All-Star break the same way they went into it, by winning as many or more than they lost. Towns blamed himself for playing poorly at both ends of the floor.
“I thought we did,” Towns said when asked if the team kept its pre-break momentum. “I guess I’m still on All-Star break.”