Only 13 games into a season in which his team remains winless at home, point guard Ricky Rubio issued a warning Friday night after the Timberwolves lost both a battle of pace and the game 96-86 to the Detroit Pistons at Target Center.
Only defending champion Golden State has won more road games than the Wolves’ five so far, but only the Wolves and completely winless Philadelphia haven’t won at home this season. The Wolves now have started the season 0-6 at Target Center and have lost 14 consecutive games there, dating to a victory over Portland on March 7 last season.
“I mean, we’re not the same team,” Rubio said. “We haven’t played good at home. Maybe on the road we’re more ready because nobody expects us to win on the road sometimes and we’ve got nothing to lose. We go out there and play with more energy. We’ve got to figure it out soon because if we don’t, the season is going to be over before we know it. It’s not how a young team builds for the future, especially for the potential we have over here.”
The Wolves have won at Chicago, Atlanta and Miami this season largely by imposing their defensive will on some pretty good teams when it mattered most. They lost yet another home game Friday when they imposed that defensive will on the Pistons for the first half and still didn’t lead by more than 44-38 at halftime.
In the second half, Detroit found ways to get the ball to double-double machine Andre Drummond, who scored 15 points in the third quarter on his way to finishing with 21 points and 11 rebounds. The Pistons’ 12-2 run and their 30-21 third quarter overall changed the game and cleared the way for Reggie Jackson’s fourth-quarter scoring.
“He’s playing like an All-Star right now,” Wolves forward Shabazz Muhammad said of Drummond. “He’s just bigger than everybody.”
Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell lamented a loss that he attributed to a team that simply doesn’t shoot well enough. The Wolves held Detroit to 6-for-28 on three-pointers, but they themselves shot only 43 percent, including 3-for-13 on threes.
Mitchell acknowledged part of that is due to how his team struggles — as it did in Friday’s third quarter — offensively with defensive specialists Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince in its starting five. He then noted the team’s offensive execution and defense declines with a second unit that comprises mostly younger players.
“When we win, we have to play unbelievable defense,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think we won a game this year with our offense. That’s hard to do in the NBA. That’s a lot of pressure on your defense when it’s hard for you to score.”
The Wolves have scored 100 points or more eight times in 13 games but are only 4-4 in those games. Their 86 points Friday were their second-lowest total of the season, to only the 84 they scored in a home loss to Miami on Nov. 5. They scored 65 points by third quarter’s end Friday.
“We’re a high-scoring team, a high-pace team,” Wolves star Andrew Wiggins said after again leading his team in scoring with 21 points, “and tonight I feel that we played to their pace.”
Rubio said part of that is his fault, and part of it is his team didn’t defend enough to rebound and run the way it must.
“We didn’t have the rhythm we wanted,” Rubio said. “It’s not the pace we want to play. We’re young, we can run and we’re good in the open court. We know that. We just have to do it.”