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Zulgad: No need to protest: Timberwolves can’t deny the fact they are in the tank

MINNEAPOLIS — The Timberwolves had ended a five-game losing streak with a three-point win last Wednesday at Miami when Wolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas tweeted “Tank that!”

This was Rosas’ response to the many who have accused the Wolves of going all in on a tank in a season that long ago slipped away. One had to wonder if Rosas regretted his tweet following the Wolves’ ugly 111-91 loss to Dallas on Sunday afternoon at Target Center. That followed a 136-125 setback on Friday night in Orlando.

Rosas turned over the Wolves’ roster at the trade deadline, acquiring point guard D’Angelo Russell. That was followed by Karl-Anthony Towns suffering a fractured left wrist that has forced him to miss the past seven games with no determination on if or when he will return this season.

The Wolves “improved” to 17-40 on the season with the victory over Jimmy Butler’s Heat but the win was only their second in the past 20 games. The problem with Rosas’ tweet is that one victory does little to prove there isn’t a tank in progress, and it would have been difficult to try to tell the near capacity crowd of 18,058 that showed up Sunday that the home team had much interest in winning.

Dallas’ young superstar, Luka Doncic, sat out because of a thumb sprain and it didn’t matter one bit. Kristaps Porzingis led the Mavericks’ dominant performance with 38 points and 13 rebounds, and Seth Curry added 27 points and four assists.

The Mavericks led by as many as 26 points in the third quarter and the Wolves shot 36.4 percent (36-of-99) for the game, somehow missing an enormous variety of layups and short shots in a performance that will drive the analytics world to wonder how such a supposedly efficient shot can be missed so efficiently. Russell led the Wolves with 16 points and seven assists and added nine rebounds.

Tanking is considered a nasty word in sports because it implies that everyone in the organization is somehow on board with being awful to get good. But no matter how much Rosas might protest, it’s hard not to see that the Wolves have checked out on this season.

The problem for the Wolves’ business department is that the crowd that turned out to see Sunday’s game was given little incentive to return for the dozen remaining home games this season. The potential upside after the Russell trade was that fans would get the remainder of the season to see how Russell and his good friend, Towns, would work together as the latest 1-2 punch that’s supposed to save this franchise.

Watching Russell operate alone with a collection of players that likely includes a few who won’t be back in 2020-21, isn’t exactly interesting. As far as Rosas is concerned, he can’t be overly concerned about the scoreboard. The only thing he can do is make decisions on which players he likes and which players he doesn’t.

Outsiders can call it tanking, or they can say this is just an awful and inept basketball team (that’s also accurate), but what’s the upside of winning now? Let ’em accuse you of losing on purpose. Every loss improves the Wolves’ lottery position and sadly that’s the only win this woebegone franchise can celebrate.


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