PHOENIX – Stingy enough with them while building a 5-1 road record early this season, the Timberwolves committed far too many turnovers in Sunday’s 108-101 loss to Phoenix and now have lost three consecutive games away from Target Center.
Whether careless themselves or forced by the Suns’ two point-guard backcourt, the Wolves’ 24 turnovers were more than triple the eight they had each in road victories over Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this season.
Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell called his team “like a step slow today” in what was its sixth loss in seven games. Maybe that’s simply because the Suns’ Eric Bledsoe-Brandon Knight backcourt was just too active, too good against a Wolves team disrupted in its rhythm and flow by those guards’ energy and in its rotations by foul trouble that sidelined starters Karl-Anthony Towns and reserves Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica at times.
The Suns scored 43 points off those 24 turnovers, which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is the most by one of their usually frenetic teams since the statistic was first kept in 1998.
Knight and Bledsoe combined to outscore the Wolves’ starting backcourt of Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin 48-20 and they had half — four each — of the Suns’ 16 steals.
When it was all over, Knight set a career high by making seven three-pointers and scored 25 points after he went 3-for-24 from that distance in his previous four games. On Friday, he missed all 12 shots he attempted — including 0-for-8 on threes — and scored one point in a 10-point home loss to Portland.
“Brandon Knight had been struggling,” Mitchell said, “but he made some tonight.”
Mitchell sat his ineffective starting five down for the entire fourth quarter and decided the best way to counter Knight, Bledsoe and the Suns’ preferred speedy pace was with maybe the league’s slowest player, 39-year-old Andre Miller.
While Zach LaVine, Miller, Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad and Damjan Rudez played on, Rubio, Martin, Towns and Andrew Wiggins all sat for at least the final 13 minutes after the Wolves were outscored 60-39 in the second and third quarters.
“That first group was a step slow,” Mitchell said. “For whatever reasons, it happens. It wasn’t like they weren’t trying. It’s 82 games. To me, if your starters just don’t have it and they keep going down by 15, 20 points and that second group brings it back and gives us a chance, they deserve the right to stay on the floor.
‘‘Nobody’s going to finish all 82 games.”
LaVine disagreed that the Suns played a step faster all day.
“I didn’t feel like we were a step slow,” he said. “I just felt like we made some mistakes — missed some easy layups, turned the ball over — and they capitalized.”
Most of the time it seemed like Knight did so, despite his 0-for-13 shooting on three-pointers in his past two games.
“You know the great players in this league are going to bounce back,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said.
Traded twice in his first four NBA seasons, Knight has teamed with Bledsoe this season to produce a pace in points and assists that would put them with such tandems in NBA history as LeBron James/Kyrie Irving, James/ Dwyane Wade, Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen and John Havlicek/Jo Jo White if they keep it up.
“It was one off night, a really off night,” Knight said about Friday’s game. “But I’m a very confident person, and my teammates stick behind me. I’ve been doing it for a while now, so I know what I can offer.”