OAKLAND, CALIF. – The Timberwolves’ comeback victory Friday in Phoenix prevented their first four-game losing streak this season.
Call it small progress, if you will.
Last season, the Wolves lost four consecutive games six times — including a nine-game streak that consumed half of January — before they reversed course in February after a 14-36 season start.
They went 15-17 the rest of the way, including a 7-5 finish under interim coach Sam Mitchell that they haven’t continued under new coach Tom Thibodeau.
They’ve started this season 5-11 after Saturday’s 115-102 loss at Golden State, where they couldn’t keep pace with a Warriors team that has won 10 consecutive games and is 15-2 featuring superstar Kevin Durant alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
But they remember what it’s like to lose week after week, month after month.
“I mean, it’s not fun,” said Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns, who went home Sunday 1-2 from Thanksgiving week trip to play Utah at Target Center on Monday. “We all come from backgrounds where we haven’t lost, and you start seeing accumulating losses like we did. It’s about changing it, and you always start with yourself first and with others second. I need to be a better player to have a chance to change the tide.”
From their experience a season ago, they also know takes to turn around a season, if in a modest way.
“I mean, we just have to say it’s over,” Towns said. “You’ve got to want to end it. So it’s up to us to go out there and say we’re tired of losing, we’re tired of making the same mistakes, we’re tired of having the same kind of quarters, whether it’s the third, fourth, first, second, yada, yada. It’s up to us to change it.”
They did so last season after months of failure when they went 6-28 from late November to early February after they started the season 8-8.
The lessons learn presumably from a season ago: It takes unity, will and a little something called defense.
“Just stay together,” said Wolves second-year point guard Tyus Jones, who played the entire fourth quarter Saturday in Oakland for the second consecutive night. “It’s a long season, and it’s a lot of games. From last year, we learned that one bad game can turn to two, can turn to three real quickly. You just have to stick together because you’re not going to do it alone, and the good teams in this league are the ones that are together on and off the court, trusting one another.”
The NBA’s best teams also usually have played years together, often for the same coach. The Wolves are learning a new coach and a new system for third time in three years, this time with Thibodeau and his five-year contract to be both coach and president of basketball operations.
“We’re the best players in the world, we’re the best athletes in the world, we shouldn’t need this much time to adjust,” Towns said. “That’s why we do what we do at such a high level. That’s why we’re the chosen ones in this league. It’s up to us to do what we need to do to win.”
But they are just a few of the chosen ones in a league filled with them, in a league where nuance and continuity means so much.
“It’s different,” Wolves big man Gorgui Dieng said. “New coach, you’ve got different players. Some guys get it quick. Some guys don’t. Some guys need more time. We’re still learning and it’s a process. The important thing is that you get better every day.”
Looking back, Wolves forward Anthony Wiggins saw the change in his team a year ago that seemingly separated their season into two parts, one longer than the other.
“Defense,” Wiggins said. “People picked it up. We were playing together more, the chemistry was building. You can say getting used to a coach was part of it maybe, but it was more the players playing hard and playing together. We can change it now. We can change it next week. Only we can decide when it changes.”
Saturday’s leading Wolves’ scorer with 31 points, guard Zach LaVine can’t say exactly when, but he promises change will come.
“Stay with the process, believe in the team and yourself,” he said. “We’re going to get it right. We’re going to fix it. You can never be down on yourself. Sometimes you have to go through those tough spots.”