New year, old story.
And, frankly, it’s a story that Wolves coach Flip Saunders appears to be tiring of. Witness the way Saunders started his postgame news conference Thursday at Target Center, moments after his team had lost its 10th consecutive game, 110-107 to a Sacramento Kings team that came to town struggling as well.
“I don’t know what I can say that I haven’t said already,” Saunders said.
So much seemed so familiar: A defensively challenged start that allowed Sacramento to come out of the gate shooting 77.8 percent in the first quarter, 65.9 percent for the first half. Starters who didn’t bring enough energy at the beginning, and a team that was able to get to the precipice of victory late but not finish the job.
“We just didn’t have enough down the stretch,” Saunders said.
The Wolves (5-26) never held the lead. But they did manage a tie, at 99-99, when Thaddeus Young made one of two free throws with 5 minutes, 34 seconds left. The team was still within two with 1:54 left after Gorgui Dieng made one of two free throws. But each time, a defensive lapse.
Former Wolves player Derrick Williams hit a three-pointer that broke that 99-99 tie. After Dieng’s free throw the Kings scored four straight.
Almost, but not enough.
As December stretched on and one loss followed another, Saunders kept saying the team needed a win for, if nothing else, positive reinforcement. It’s a new year, but he’s still waiting. After Thursday’s game Andrew Wiggins, who dominated at times in a 27-point performance, insisted his team was better than the one that started this losing streak three weeks ago.
Perhaps. But the Wolves are still waiting for that positive reinforcement.
A lethargic start Thursday put the Wolves in an early hole they were never able to completely escape. Wiggins scored 27, Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad 15 each, but the Wolves starters were all negative in the plus-minus department. The bench players — who all had positive numbers — tried to make up for that but failed.
“You can’t win a game by how you play in the beginning of a game,” Saunders said. “ but you can lose a game by not setting the tone. We came out with poor energy.’’
Considering the way the Kings started the game, even Saunders was surprised his team was within two points at halftime. The Wolves tied the score four times early in the third quarter but never got over the hump.
All five Sacramento starters finished in double figures, led by Darren Collison and Rudy Gay, who had 21 each. Gay ultimately fouled out, as did Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins (19 points). But the Wolves couldn’t take advantage. Williams again put up good numbers (17 points, 6-for-10 shooting) against his old team, twice hitting three-pointers after the Wolves had tied the score.
“It’s tough,” Muhammad said. “That was a good game for us to win. In the fourth I thought we were definitely going to get that game. It started in the first half. We didn’t really come out and give any energy.’’
That is a refrain fans have heard a few times this season.
“We can learn that we’ve got to keep pushing,” said guard Troy Daniels. “We have to make stops. We can’t win a game when we’re just trading baskets. We have to get stops on the defensive end.’’
The Wolves need to be stronger at the start, stouter at the finish if this losing streak is going to end.
“We’ve been close,” Saunders said. “We just have to keep on fighting.”