Practice Report | Feb. 3, 2014

The Timberwolves are walking a fine line right now. They’re in a position where they know they need to showcase grit, toughness and passion in order to get back over the .500 mark and stay there for the duration of the season, but they do need to keep those emotions in check—particularly down the stretch.

J.J. Barea was a prime example, and he talked about it after Monday’s practice.

Barea, of course, was ejected from Saturday’s 120-113 loss in Atlanta. He picked up a technical at the 6:43 mark of the fourth quarter, then argued and was tossed for the rest of the game. That line, Barea said on Monday, he knows he and his teammates can’t afford to cross.

He knows the team needs to play with passion, but it doesn’t do anyone any good heading to the locker room early.

“I just got a little frustrated with a couple calls, but I shouldn’t let [it]—the first technical was fine, but I should’ve stopped after the first one, you know?” Barea said. “I think I was a little frustrated when I got to the locker room, I let my teammates down a little bit by getting the second one.”

Barea said he’s always played emotionally, and it’s a reason why he’s gotten to this level. But there is a difference between playing with passion and getting caught up in those types of arguments.

The Wolves do need to showcase that type of tenacity on the defensive end, something they’ve dabbled with over the past couple weeks but have not found a consistent rhythm. It’s imperative they get on the right track on that end of the court, because without it they’ll have trouble rallying off a string of victories needed to get some breathing room between themselves and that .500 line.

Barea said the Wolves focused on a little bit of everything at practice on Monday, but defense definitely was a key. In particular, the Wolves simply need to get a little more physical.

“If we get into foul trouble, we get into foul trouble,” Barea said. “But I think we’ve got to bother people a little bit more.”

Our old friends, the Lakers, are coming to visit

Don’t look now, but the Lakers are on their way. It’s always one of those games you circle on the calendar because of the franchise’s mystique—that, and they left Minneapolis with their titles won here in 1960 and never looked back. This time around, however, the Lakers are not the same looking crew they’ve been over the better part of recent memory. They’ll obviously be without Kobe Bryant (knee), and they’ll also travel without big man Pau Gasol (groin).

So what should we expect from this incoming Lakers squad? Kevin Love said we will see a group of guys looking to prove themselves.

“We’ve got to take advantage of Pau being out,” Love said. “It’s an opportunity league. Other guys are going to have to step up, and we’ve just got to go out there and give a great effort. If we play hard, we feel like we can beat them.”

The Wolves ended a 22-game losing streak to the Lakers in November at Staples Center, then dropped their next contest out West in December. This is the first of two meetings at Target Center this season, and clearly without Gasol in the lineup it does help take some of the pressure off a Wolves team lacking Nikola Pekovic inside.

The Wolves will continue looking to Ronny Turiaf, Gorgui Dieng, Dante Cunningham and others to step in and fill those minutes in Pekovic’s absence. Pekovic is still out with bursitis in his right ankle. He’s currently in the process of 7-10 days without basketball activity and is out indefinitely, but he was walking without a boot on Monday at Target Center.

Love said Cunningham has done a great job filling in minutes, especially showcasing his ability to get to the rim using his athleticism. He’s been primarily a mid-range jump shooter during his two years here in Minnesota, but he does can get to the hoop and he’s been displaying that through aggressive dunks over the past few games.

And Turiaf, well, he’s a guy whose passion and intensity is helping translate into some interior defense during his recent extended minutes.

“He’s been great defensively, blocking a lot of shots,” Love said. “Getting us a lot of energy—pick and roll, especially with guys clamping on me out there. He’s been rolling and dunking the ball. So you know it’s not necessarily the offensive output that you see from Pek, but as far as energy and on the defensive end, he’s great.”

Quick Hits

  • Love said his ankle feels OK after having a day off on Sunday. He rolled it against Memphis on Friday but stayed in the game. He then scored 18 points and added seven boards in the third alone on Friday night and followed it up with 43 points and 19 boards on Saturday, so it appears he’s doing OK.

  • Barea on if the frustration is boiling over after two losses, putting the Wolves at 23-24: “No, it’s frustrating, we lost two in a row but we’re done with that. We had a day off, so we had a good practice today and we’re ready to go.”

  • For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter.