If the Timberwolves could have driven out of the wreckage of their 116-102 loss to New Orleans at Target Center, they collectively would have grabbed the wheel of a rusted-out 1987 Yugo with a hole in the floorboard and smashed fenders.
The Wolves followed their first two-game winning streak since before Christmas by losing to a Pelicans team that came into the night 18-32 and had lost four games in a row before it celebrated Fat Monday with special Mardi Gras uniforms and a runaway victory.
“I’m just going to say it was one of those clunkers,” Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said. “You get two or three a season.”
The Wolves lost for the 37th time in 53 games, but Mitchell considers Monday’s defeat only one of a handful of those clunkers. They have lost five games by more than the 14-point final margin — including two losses by 25 points and one by 26 — but this game looked better than it was after their garbage-time fourth quarter cut a 28-point deficit in half.
Mitchell criticized his team’s pick-and-roll defense for being “as bad as it has been all year.” He lamented his players’ lack of energy and life after they had beaten the Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago last week and played mostly spiritedly on a recent four-game Western trip.
“Probably,” Mitchell said when asked if success in the form of two consecutive victories contributed. “You know when you’re young, you get complacent.”
Yet he said “it’s hard to get mad at them” for three reasons: 1. Every 82-game season is going to have a few clunkers; 2. He believes his team has competed hard “for the most part” this season.
And No. 3?
“They’re all we got,” Mitchell said.
With Kevin Garnett, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin all out injured and Ricky Rubio and Karl-Anthony Towns in early foul trouble Monday, the Wolves fell apart when they went to their reserves early in the second quarter and got outscored 16-1 by a Pelicans team that brings former All-Star Jrue Holiday and shooter Ryan Anderson off the bench.
New Orleans reserves outscored their Wolves counterparts 67-33, including 30-8 in the first half. Holiday scored 20 of his 27 points in the first half. Anderson scored 24 of his 26 points after halftime.
“We just didn’t have it tonight,” Andrew Wiggins said. “We didn’t fight back. We usually fight back.”
Both Wiggins and Towns denied that the Wolves might have been victims of their own success, as little as a two-game winning streak is in the scope of things.
Rubio disagreed. “We played bad,” he said. “It’s tough because we were playing good lately, winning some games. It seems like we relax when that happens. When we have success for a couple, three games, we relax. It’s hard to come back from that. When you’re on a roll and you play good, you have to want it and play even more aggressive. The momentum is going to carry. If you relax like we did tonight, it’s tough to stop the other team.”
Mitchell said Monday’s answers reside in the previous two victories.
“You want them to build on success, but they have to understand how we got it,” he said. “They have to understand how we played and remember what got you there. There’s a commitment every night, playing together, setting screens. The whole night tonight we were in between. It wasn’t really wrong, but it wasn’t really right.”