Wolves Focused On Finishing Strong As They Head Home From West Coast Trip
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A lot of things didn’t go as planned during the Timberwolves’ 101-95 loss to the Clippers on Wednesday at Staples Center. The Wolves scratched small forward Andrei Kirilenko from the lineup due to back spasms. Power forward Kevin Love was 3-of-12 from the field. The team committed 18 turnovers on the night and shot 25 percent in the second half.
Still, with two minutes to play, Minnesota trailed by two and had the ball on the road against a consensus Western Conference playoff opponent.
Minnesota wrapped up its four-game road trip with a 1-3 record and heads home for a showdown with Milwaukee on Friday sitting 6-8 overall. They’ve been spotty offensively late in games, and they’re health has been an issue dating back to Ricky Rubio’s knee surgery last March.
But Rubio’s return is imminent, and .500 is within their line of sight. As the Wolves head into December, the hope is soon being able to put their top players on the floor together and see what this group can achieve together.
For now, coming off a late loss in L.A., the Wolves are hoping to regroup at home and win their first tilt at Target Center since the buzzer-beater against Indiana on Nov. 9.
On Wednesday, when the Clippers turned up the intensity in the second half, coach Rick Adelman said the Wolves weren’t able to respond.
“We just didn’t do enough in the fourth quarter, especially offensively,” Adelman said. “We shot 25 percent in the second half. They turned it up. They got very physical in the fourth quarter, and we needed to respond to that.”
The Clippers forced six of Minnesota’s 18 turnovers in the fourth, including an important steal by Chauncey Billups with 1:26 to play that led to a DeAndre Jordan slam—making it a two-possession game.
Even with the miscues, the Wolves had a chance. Minnesota led 77-76 after three quarters, then shot 5-of-23 from the field in the fourth. The key was getting the Clippers in foul trouble, which they did throughout. Minnesota connected on 27-of-35 free-throw attempts, including 12-of-16 from Love alone.
It helped keep the Wolves in position despite a 31-for-82 night from the field, including 6-for-22 from 3-point land after starting the night 3-for-3 from distance.
But by night’s end, Love had his fifth straight double-double with 19 points and 12 boards, four other players scored in double figures (Shved with 17, Luke Ridnour with 13, Nikola Pekovic with 11 and Malcolm Lee with 10), and the Wolves did force 15 lead changes and held the biggest advantage of the evening at nine points early in the second.
“We just have to focus and finish games off,” forward Josh Howard said.
That’s the challenge as Minnesota moves forward. The problem hasn’t been getting off to fast starts, an issue the Wolves had last season, but instead finding ways to hold off opponents’ runs late in ballgames. Minnesota has led in four of their last five games heading into the fourth quarter. They’re 1-4 in that stretch.
Each night seems to pose a different scenario for the Wolves. Wednesday’s caveat was Kirilenko’s absence—a major blow, because he’s a player who affects so many aspects of the game. The night before, he turned in 14 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks. But with injuries changing the lineup nightly, Kirilenko has played no fewer than 35 minutes in each of his last eight games and has played 40 or more in four of those contests.
What Minnesota needs is to regroup at home on Friday against Milwaukee, take their three days after the Bucks game to recuperate and be prepped for their two-game road trip to Philadelphia and Boston next week.
The key to that equation is the fourth quarter.
“I thought we played really hard,” Adelman said. “We just have to stay after it, get better every day, and finish games.”