A day after he admonished his team after a flat first half in Chicago, and with back-to-back games starting Friday against Houston, Wolves head coach Ryan Saunders had his team back at practice Thursday afternoon.
“We’re here to work,” he said.
Another message? Perhaps. Just about everyone in the Wolves locker room talked about the spark that Saunders’ message provided Wednesday. And the team responded.
But it wasn’t enough to get past the Bulls in the United Center. So Saunders kept a somber tone Thursday talking about what his team needed to do to end a losing streak that has now reached seven games — a month after the Wolves endured an 11-game losing streak.
“I want these guys executing better down the stretch, defensively executing game plans better down the stretch and not digging ourselves holes, too,” Saunders said.
And while Thursday’s practice was going to be more mental than physical — Saunders had the players watch film at two stations set up on the practice floor — it’s clear Saunders is still not pleased.
“There are going to be games throughout the season where everybody ‘lays an egg,’ ” he said. “People talk about that in the NBA. I don’t want to buy into that. You can always control your focus, control the type of maximum effort you give, no matter when it is.”
Given their upcoming schedule, the Wolves’ current streak will be difficult to end. Houston is here Friday, Oklahoma City on Saturday. After hosting the Sacramento Kings on Monday, the Wolves travel to Los Angeles to play the Clippers.
The Wolves will need consistent effort from start to finish, which is why Gorgui Dieng was glad Saunders spoke up.
“It’s the truth,” he said. “I don’t care the way he says it, as long as it’s the truth. … We have to be aware of the situation we’re in right now and know that it cannot be ‘We’ll get the next game, we’ll get the next game.’ I think we’ve lost seven in a row right now, and we have two tough games coming up. We have to do whatever it takes to win.”
Saunders did say he liked the two-man game Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins eventually got going against the Bulls.
“That was a positive,” he said. “I like how Andrew responded in the second half. I expect that from Andrew every game. That’s what we need from him, and what we’ll demand from him.”
The most frustrating part of Wednesday’s game?
“With us, we’ve kind of been up and down, when we make shots, when we miss shots,” Saunders said. “Our defense should not waver like that. I thought we had too many unacceptable defensive possessions last night as a group. That’s in transition, getting outrun by a guy. That’s just what we are about as a team.”
It remains to be seen if the spark the Wolves had coming out of the locker room for the second half against Chicago will carry forward.
“Nobody is really in a funk or anything,” Robert Covington said. “Heads are not down. We’re just trying to figure out ways to get going.”