The Minnesota Timberwolves aren't very good. This much we know already.
On December 4th, 2014, the Wolves lost to the lowly Sixers in front of the home crowd at Target Center. This website wrote about the loss, claiming the team had reached a new low. Some thought the response may have been too harsh. A different column encapsulated the Wolves season to that point by its title -- "Banged-up Wolves hit rock bottom with loss to Sixers."
Nearly one month later, January 3rd, 2015, the Wolves dug even deeper.
Saturday's loss to the Utah Jazz surprisingly redefined the lowest-low point of this season.
Per usual, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic were inactive while Flip Saunders announced before the game Chase Budinger felt ill, and wouldn't be available. Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young and Gorgui Dieng were the starters.
Utah, without Enes Kanter, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks, countered with Trey Burke, Joe Ingles, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert.
When these teams met on Tuesday an 18-2 run in the fourth quarter propelled Utah to a dramatic victory, but they entered Target Center on the tailend of a back-to-back, injured and vulnerable. This figured to be a contest the Wolves could win as they were ahead after the first quarter, 21-20.
Utah shot over 60 percent during the 2nd quarter and led at halftime, 47-41. At one point over a four minute stretch, the lineup of Burke, Ingles, Dante Exum, Jeremy Evans and Trevor Booker scored 11 points on 80 percent field goal shooting. On the other end, within three minutes, Muhammad, Mo Williams, Troy Daniels, Anthony Bennett and Jeff Adrien shot 1-of-9 from the field. This lineup recorded a +/- of -9 over that span.
Flip Saunders used 12 different lineups, but no combination could score and defend well enough to prevent Utah from building onto their lead throughout the game. At the end of the 3rd, the Wolves were down 15. Wiggins, Dieng and Hummel were on the floor together more most of the final frame, but Burke was just too much.
Despite going 2-for-19 (0-for-11 3PT FG) on Sunday, Burke spearheaded Utah's attack from start to finish. He bounced back against the Wolves, shooting 10-of-16 (4-of-6) en route to 28 points. Burke scored a career high 32 against the Wolves in the final game of the 13-14 season.
"Maybe I should have drafted him, (Burke) based on the way he plays against us." Saunders said after the game.
Gobert was excellent, tallying 13 points and 11 rebounds in addition to 6 blocks. He was efficient on offense and imposing at the defensive end, and there was nothing the Wolves could really do to stop him. Between Gobert and Favors, Dieng, Young, Bennett, Jeff Adrien and Robbie Hummel were just overmatched throughout the night.
Utah won by the final score of 101-89.
Saunders mentioned concern regarding Muhammad's energy, suppressed an urge to say kind words about Wiggins, and explained how he thinks the departure of Corey Brewer has impacted his players.
That's as probably as bad of a loss we've had in a long time.
Ricky Rubio wasn't wearing street-clothes before the game. He was seen shooting 3-pointers, and playing horse with assistant coach Mike Penberthy an hour before tip-off. I expect Rubio to return to practice soon, perhaps sometime this week, which is the moment Wolves fans have been waiting for. His return will mean less time for LaVine, assuming Williams remains in good health.
Active players may not have the same opportunities when the proverbial reinforcements arrive and, despite this, still aren't performing up to standard. Once Rubio, Martin and Pekovic are all back in the lineup, Saunders hinted that others will be playing less minutes than they have been.
Subsequently, we're under the impression the Wolves are going to get better.
Until then, we're all just waiting for that to happen.