After flying home the night of a road game, most NBA teams would take the following day off — especially if they’re closing out their week with back-to-back games.
However, taking a day off wasn’t an option for the Timberwolves on Thursday.
The Wolves met for what head coach Ryan Saunders referred to as a “mental day” on Thursday afternoon less than 24 hours after their 117-110 loss to the Chicago Bulls in which their first-half effort was scrutinized. The Wolves came out flat-footed in the opening half of Wednesday’s loss, committed 12 turnovers, and faced a 19-point deficit at one point. The Bulls’ opponents commit a league-high 18.2 turnovers per game, but the Wolves’ effort was still inexcusable.
“Just the basic understanding that the first half was not — and more so the first quarter — an acceptable way of playing right now,” Saunders said. “There’s going to be games throughout the season that everybody quote-unquote ‘lays an egg.’ People talk about that in the NBA. I don’t want to buy into that, because you can always control your focus and control the type of maximum effort you give no matter when it is.”
Saunders expressed his frustration with his players at halftime, and his message seemed to spark spirited play from the entire roster. However, the Wolves ultimately failed to overcome the hole they dug themselves in the first half and dropped to 15-29 on the season.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Napier were the only Wolves’ players to shoot above 45% from the field and accounted for 81 of the Wolves’ 110 total points, but Saunders’ biggest gripe wasn’t with his team’s offense.
“We’ve kind of been up and down; we make shots, we miss shots,” Saunders said. “Our defense should not waver, though. We had too many not-acceptable defensive possessions as a group, and that’s in transition, that’s getting out-run by guys, and that’s not who we’re going to be as a team.”
The Bulls recorded 14 fast break points while the Wolves were limited to six on Wednesday night, the team’s seventh-straight loss. When asked how his team can be more efficient in its transition offense, forward Robert Covington didn’t need much time to think of a response.
“Create more stops,” Covington said. “In order for us to get out and run, we have to be able to generate more stops and get out and run so we don’t take the ball out every time because it allows the defense to set.”
Saunders said the Wolves’ transition offense execution would be a main focus of Thursday’s film sessions. And of course, playing as a team while adding a sense of urgency will remain a top priority here on out.
“It’s tough, but that’s the NBA. It’s like a rollercoaster,” center Gorgui Dieng said. “There are some highs and some lows. The situation that we’re in right now, we have to stick together and just try to get it out as a group, not a one-man team.”
The Wolves will close their four-game week by hosting the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder for back-to-back home games Friday and Saturday night.
“We’re not here to play half games,” Dieng said. “We’re going to play the full game and win. We have to be aware of the situation we’re in right now and know that it cannot be, ‘We’ll get the next one, we’ll get the next one.’ I think we’ve lost seven in a row, and we have two tough games coming up. We have to do whatever it takes to win. If it’s cheering on your teammates, or taking less shots, or doing a better job, we have to do better as a team to try and win games.
“Hopefully, tomorrow we’re going to play like we’ve lost seven games in a row.”