After the Timberwolves 141-137 loss to Indiana, one of the most damning observations of the Wolves' effort came from coach Chris Finch, who said the Wolves tried everything — zone, switching, whatever they could throw at the Pacers — to try and keep even an undermanned Indiana team from torching the Wolves.
Little worked, and at the end of Finch's explanation he concluded by saying: "We just didn't have a will to guard the ball."
As the Wolves search for explanations about why they have been so inconsistent this season, it all tends to come back to the defensive end of the floor and the concept of effort.
"Defense is effort," rookie Anthony Edwards said. "You give effort and you've got great defense."
At some point maybe that listen will creep into the minds of a young team. The Wolves rank 27th in defensive efficiency for the season. Since the All-Star break they are also 27th as Finch has had over a month to tweak what he wants to do on that end of the floor with this group. Finch's philosophy has focused on protecting the paint, something the Wolves didn't do very well against an Indiana team that had 66 on Wednesday, and telling the Wolves to use their athleticism and sweat to compensate for mental mistakes that may happen.
Edwards' progress on that end of the floor can be symbolic of the team as a whole as he tries to find consistency on that end.
"There's games where I've been great, games where I've been trash and games where I've been all right," Edwards said. "So I'd say I've been all right. I'm in the middle."
Edwards said the Wolves have issues with consistency as a whole, especially on the defensive end.
"Consistency is hard," Edwards said. "Because we come out, might play hard the first game, don't play hard the second game, play hard the second half and we still lose the game. So yeah, consistency is very hard for us. We struggle with consistency."
There's also just a longer download time for playing defense in the NBA than there is offense. Finch has often said most players make it to the league not because they're great at defense but because they're great offensively. The defense then has to come along (or sometimes doesn't). That can result in frequent mental lapses, especially as it relates to off-ball defense.
"These guys are like what I call start-stop players. They're activated by the ball," Finch said. "They've grown up playing the ball, having the ball and maybe they've not guarded guys off the ball that can hurt them. Everybody in the league can hurt them.
"In the college game at any given time there's probably two guys out there that are told by the coach they're not allowed to shoot. It's a lot easier to guard off the ball at times in college than it is in the pro game."
As it pertains to watching professional defense, Edwards — in just a bit of irony — shouted out the Knicks, coached by former Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau. Unprompted, Edwards said he admired the way the Knicks played defense.
"They don't got great single defenders. Whatever they're defensive plan is, that [stuff] is great," Edwards said. "They play great defense as a team at all times. I love watching them play defense. I feel like they're the best defensive team in the league. They play hard."
And, most importantly, play hard on a consistent basis.