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Last Shots: Wolves lose sixth in a row, and the defense keeps looking worse

MINNEAPOLIS – Fifteen quick thoughts from the Minnesota Timberwolves 127-116 loss to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night at Target Center.

1. The Wolves continue to be stuck in both a losing streak and the stretch of the season in which they’re playing their worst basketball to date. The streak has hit six games and the play on the court can’t get much worse, at least defensively.

2. The Wolves are 0-6 in the month of December and have been historically bad defensively during that stretch, allowing 125.2 points per 100 possessions. It was more of the same against the Jazz Wednesday night. After a decent start to the game defensively, holding Utah to just 25 points in the first quarter, things unraveled quickly on that end of the floor.

3. A number of things can be pointed at as to why the team is struggling defensively. A lack of communication, pick-and-roll coverages, and physicality among other things all need to improve if this team is going to get back to what it was defensively earlier in the season.

4. “I think the most important thing would be the physicality of our defense,” head coach Ryan Saunders said about what needs to improve the quickest. “That needs to improve. There’s a number of things that need to improve right now. We’ve done it before. Two weeks ago, we were feeling better about our defense. I know it can be done.”

5. Something has to change for this team, because what’s going on right now isn’t getting it done. Offensively, they’re playing well enough to win games, but not well enough to overcome historically putrid defensive performances.

6. When the Wolves were 7-4 – which feels like a lifetime ago – the team was a very respectable 14th in defensive rating at 105.7. Since then they’ve slipped all the way to 21st overall, and have been dead-last in the month of December.

7. “I mean, obviously for me, personally, it’s high,” Karl-Anthony Towns said of the frustration level inside the locker room. “Because I want to win. You just want to win. We were in a great spot. We obviously dug ourselves a hole. It’s early in the season. As a leader you have to look at a glass half-full. But you also have to look at it half-empty. Because we’re on a losing skid like this. But you also have to look at it as half-full because we have a lot more games to go. We can turn it around. It’s just frustrating. We have to go out and find ways to get a “w”.

8. “The system is in place. We’re drawing the offensive players to areas where we have our system. But then we just make undisciplined errors, where a guy leaves a strongside corner. Or leaves a spot, or does something that’s not in our system, and it leaves the opponent to taking a non-system shot, which is most likely a three. And it just comes from discipline and communication. And we just have to reestablish that.”

9. The second statement by Towns is certainly interesting. Saying that they’re giving up too many ‘non-system’ shots to opponents does make sense considering they allow only 32.1 attempted 3-pointers per game, good for sixth-fewest in the league. But the problem may not be the number of threes they allow, but rather the quality of looks they’re giving up. Utah knocked down 16 of the 35 threes it attempted on Wednesday, and for the season as a whole the Wolves rank 25th in the NBA in opponents 3-point percentage at 37.2. The only teams worse than them are Golden State, New York, Washington, Cleveland, and San Antonio. That isn’t exactly company the Wolves want to be in these days.

10. Things have been a bit better offensively lately, and Wednesday was the same story. Scoring 116 points should be enough to win a basketball game, even in today’s NBA. There’s still room for improvement, but it’s not all bad.

11. “I think we have offensive improvements, as well, that we need to make to be a consistently winning basketball club,” Saunders said. “Part of that is staying within the system and playing committed basketball for 48 minutes and not going through spurts where the ball kind of sticks and we get into one-pass shots or no-pass shots. That can be a struggle, like it is for any team.”

12. One of the bright spots for the Wolves as of late has been Jeff Teague. On Wednesday he turned in another solid performance off the bench with 32 points and six assists. This is the best-case scenario for this situation.

13. “I probably played him more than I expected, but he was aggressive,” Saunders said. “He was keeping us in the game in that second quarter, and I liked what I saw. And as you guys know, if somebody is going, they’re going to get a nice opportunity.”

14. Lastly, Keita Bates-Diop missed the game due to flu-like symptoms, and there’s no telling whether he’ll be back on Friday night against LA.

15. The Wolves play a late-night game against the LA Clippers on Friday night. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. CT from Target Center. Talk to you then.


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