The new-look Timberwolves were playing their final game before the All-Star break, and a face from the recent past was watching in the Target Center stands.
Robert Covington, now playing for Houston, was back in town, sitting next to Wolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas. What he watched must have looked familiar:
The Timberwolves, up 18 in the second quarter, up 16 at the half and up 13 with 3 minutes, 39 seconds left in the third quarter — and losing. Wednesday’s result: Charlotte 115, Minnesota 108.
The more things change …
It was the second-biggest blown lead of the season for the Wolves (16-37), who are now 1-2 since Rosas reshaped the roster. They were playing without center Karl-Anthony Towns, who was out because of a sore left wrist.
For a half, that didn’t matter. By the time it ended the question was, again, why did this happen?
“You give teams like that some momentum and you don’t respond to that adversity and it’s hard to win in this league, hard to get the confidence back,” said D’Angelo Russell, who scored 26 points with 11 assists and six rebounds in his first game at Target Center in a Timberwolves uniform.
Russell and Malik Beasley combined to score 54 points, 28 in the second half. But after a rather euphoric, fast-paced and efficient first half in which the Wolves shot nearly 50% and scored 66 points, the Wolves shot 30.2% while scoring only 42 in the second.
“Man, that one hurt. You want to win games you’re supposed to win, and I thought that’s a game we were supposed to win.”
Juancho Hernangomez scored 16 points with 12 rebounds, but shot 5-for-18. The Hornets got 28 points form Devonte’ Graham, 15 in the second half. Malik Monk came off the bench to score 16 of his 25 points in the second half, when the Hornets made half their shots and scored 65 points.
Part of it was playing, again, without their center. Part of it was because of defensive breakdowns; coach Ryan Saunders said some of the breakdowns were because new players aren’t yet fluent in the verbiage the Wolves use for defensive adjustments.
But the Wolves let an 18-36 Charlotte team that has now won three of its past 16 games outscore them 44-24 over the final 15 minutes of the game.
“I think we got bored,” said Malik Beasley, who had a team-high 28 points. “I think we should have come out a little bit harder in the second half and I got complacent and they started moving the ball. We let that dictate our defense.”
On the other end, Charlotte went to a switching defense in the second half to keep pressure on the ball, and the Wolves didn’t adjust.
Down only 87-81 after ending the third quarter on a 10-3 run, the Hornets opened the fourth on a 12-2 spurt to go up 93-89 on Willy Hernangomez’s put-back with 8:47 left. With 4:19 left, Beasley gave the Wolves their last lead, 100-99, on a 10-footer.
But Monk scored on the floater at the other end, the first two points of a 16-8 run to end the game.
“The offense got a little stagnant, and the defense followed up on that,” Russell said. “We didn’t get the stops we wanted, we didn’t get the rebounds we wanted, so it’s completely on us.”
The Wolves won’t assemble again for practice until next Wednesday night because of the All-Star break. They’ll have two days of work before returning to action against Boston on Feb. 21.
That means there will a lot of time to think about this loss. “Man, that one hurt,” Russell said. “You want to win games you’re supposed to win, and I thought that’s a game we were supposed to win.”