PHOENIX – Most of the Timberwolves had emptied out of the hushed locker room at Talking Stick Resort Arena while the athletic training staff and equipment managers were busy cleaning out the room.
One staffer tried to shoot a can of soap into a garbage can in the middle of the room. He clanked it off the side.
“Looked like a lot of guys’ jump shots tonight,” Robert Covington joked as he got dressed.
It was the only moment of levity present postgame for the Wolves after their 107-99 loss to the lowly Suns capped another futile Western road trip.
This one ended 0-4 and comes a little more than a month after the Wolves went 0-5 on another trip before trading Jimmy Butler. This ending, which dropped the Wolves to 0-11 on the road against Western Conference foes, didn’t have the gravity of that night, but the Wolves left the room needing more self-examination.
After seeming to turn a corner in the wake of the Butler trade, the Wolves, who were without Taj Gibson (personal reasons) Saturday, have regressed. Defensively, they are not the same unit that was among the best in the league after the trade and offensively, the Wolves could barely hit from outside — they went 7-for-35 on Saturday — while Derrick Rose was the only Wolves player to score in the fourth quarter until there was 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining.
“I really can’t put a finger on it,” Rose said. “Urgency just has to be there on both sides.”
Rose wasn’t alone in thinking that.
“The first 10 games after the trade we played with a lot of edge and played with a purpose,” said center Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 28 points, 21 coming in the first half. “I think right now we got too loose. We’re too cool for school right now.”
That has manifested itself on the defensive end of the floor. The Wolves looked helpless to contain Devin Booker, who had 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. This came after the Wolves allowed a season-high 141 points to the Kings on Wednesday.
“We’re just not trusting each other,” guard Jeff Teague said.
Covington, who had his hands full with Booker, was a big reason for the Wolves’ defensive success, but since he missed a game against Portland last week because of right knee soreness, coach Tom Thibodeau said Covington has yet to regain “his rhythm” on the floor.
“We just have to let him work through it and get him going,” Thibodeau said. “He’s one of those guys, you can tell when he’s in rhythm. ... Physically now he’s good, and he’s just got get his basketball rhythm back.”
Covington didn’t quite see it that way and wasn’t using his injury as an excuse.
“I’m good. I wouldn’t use that. The injury, it’s not that serious,” Covington said. “It’s just being more precautious of everything. … It’s just the way things have transpired collectively it takes away what we’ve been doing.”
Covington agreed with Teague that the Wolves needed to regain their trust in each other on the defensive end. That includes re-opening lines of communication and self-critiquing both on and off the court.
“We just have to continue to talk to each other and do what we were doing beforehand, having each others’ backs,” Covington said. “That’s what we have to get back to.”
Added Rose: “In this league, they don’t care about if you’re down, they’ll keep you down. They’re going to kick you if you’re down.”
The Western Conference’s feet are in the backswing.