The NBA All-Star break will give the Timberwolves an eight-day hiatus during which they can get away from basketball, spend time on a beach or with family and get refreshed for the final 29 games of the regular season. Unfortunately, an extended break is the last thing this team needs.
What Ryan Saunders’ club could really use would be eight days of practice — something that likely would violate the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. The new-look Wolves showed just how bad they need to spend time in the gym on Wednesday night as they melted down during a 115-108 loss to Charlotte at Target Center. The loss came in the home debut of point guard D’Angelo Russell and with center Karl-Anthony Towns sitting out and wearing a brace on his injured left wrist.
Gersson Rosas, the Wolves’ president of basketball operations, spent last week giving his roster a significant makeover and the short-term return was outstanding. The Wolves, minus Russell, ran the Los Angeles Clippers right off the Target Center floor last Saturday, cruising to a 142-115 victory. Newcomer Malik Beasley was so encouraged afterward that he mentioned the word playoffs in talking about the then 16-35 Wolves.
Then reality hit.
The Wolves lost by 11 points on Monday at red-hot Toronto with Towns and Russell both on the floor and then came Wednesday’s loss in which the Wolves could not hold an 18-point first half lead against the 18-36 Hornets. Beasley hit on 5-of-14 three-pointers and had 28 points to go with six rebounds and three assists; Russell had 26 points, making 9-of-23 shots, and added 11 assists in six rebounds.
A 16-point halftime lead disappeared as the Hornets outscored the Wolves 65-42 over the final 24 minutes. “Man, that one hurt,” said Russell, who was obtained from Golden State in the trade that sent Andrew Wiggins to the Bay Area. “I think as a group that’s come from different situations, and you have an edge of wanting to win and you may come from a winning situation or whatnot, you want to win games you’re supposed to win and I thought that’s a game we were supposed to win.”
Beasley talking about playoffs; Russell talking about games the Timberwolves, the Minnesota Timberwolves, are supposed to win. These guys will soon learn that around here those two things aren’t the norm. Short term, it’s going to be more important they learn how to work together.
With Towns out, the starting lineup on Wednesday featured four newcomers in Juancho Hernangomez, James Johnson, Beasley and Russell. Josh Okogie, who is in his second season, was the longest-tenured Wolves player among the 10 who saw action. While Towns is far from a defensive stalwart, his absence also meant the Wolves offered no resistance around the rim.
What the Wolves really need now — and what they could use the break for, if it was permitted — is a second training camp to get guys on the same page.
“You don’t want to say it’s all young guys or youth, but guys are working with the calls,” Saunders said. “There were a couple guys that called red early in the game and we don’t have a call of red. We have a black call. The point to it is everybody’s intentions are really good. They knew they wanted to switch, just verbiage and terminology sometimes … get guys in a situation where that may mean something different for us.”
The Wolves will reconvene in the middle of next week for a few days of practice before the Celtics visit a week from Friday. There will be some rust by that point so getting everyone on the same page likely won’t happen for a while.
“It’s definitely tough learning a whole new system, but we’ve got to hold each other accountable and be able to just feel things and understand things,” said Beasley, who was with Denver before coming to Minnesota. “We’ve played basketball our whole lives so a lot of those mistakes shouldn’t happen because of just playing.”