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Updated: January 15th, 2014 11:37pm
Cycle of similar mistakes and breakdowns continues to haunt Wolves

Cycle of similar mistakes and breakdowns continues to haunt Wolves

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It wasn't a jovial scene at the Target Center for much of the night on Wednesday.

"This is embarrassing," a particularly ornery fan behind the Minnesota Timberwolves bench screamed as the home team labored to keep up with the Sacramento Kings early in the fourth quarter.

The end result was a hard one for the Wolves, as well as their fan base, to swallow, albeit one that has been all too common.

For three and a half quarters, the Wolves found themselves being blatantly outplayed by the Kings, who entered the game 10 games below .500. The wake-up call finally came, but it arrived too late. A sudden rally from down 11 points with under four minutes was not enough to erase the uninspired play that had preceded it.

It's up to debate if Wednesday's 111-108 defeat qualified as the ugliest of the Wolves' season so far, but it was another sour chapter in the seemingly endless up and down cycle that has been the running storyline for this team.

The loss kept the Wolves (18-20) ensnared in a shroud of mediocrity they have struggled to find the answers needed to break out of and stay out of. Minnesota is now a dubious 0-11 in games decided by four points or less, and now two games under .500 for the third time this season.

But Wednesday was not a case of the Wolves not having the wherewithal to win close games. The problems were rooted in breakdowns that happened long before the game's final minutes.

"We were dead out there, flat," guard J.J. Barea said of the Wolves' poor start. "We took too long to get the energy going."

Sacramento set the pace nearly from the opening tip-off, and the Wolves could do little to swing momentum in their favor. Possession after possession, the Kings beat the Wolves inside or took advantage of a lazy defensive switch to score easy baskets (54 points in the paint, 22 points off the fastbreak).

"We've got to make them defend us, and we didn't do that," coach Rick Adelman said. "We allowed them to kind of skate through. Hopefully, we're going to learn a lesson ... They've got to get to a point that they understand what it is all about individually and as a team."

It's a point the Wolves have repeatedly failed to grasp.

Sacramento turned the ball over eight times more than the Wolves (20-12), but it didn't feel that way, largely pegged on Minnesota's inability to muster a legitimate rebuttal. Rudy Gay netted 26 of his game-high 33 points in the first three quarters, not including the dagger 3-pointer that ultimately snuffed out the Wolves' last-ditch attempt at a rally.

"We didn't force the issue on anybody," Adelman said. "We're so hands off defensively it almost takes an act of congress for us to go out and foul somebody. You got to get after people in this league."

Say what you will about whether or not Minnesota unexplainably overlooked the sub-par Kings, Wednesday was an example of the Wolves simply getting beat in almost every facet in a game that was a prime chance to spark a much-needed upward trend.

"It's not just one guy in particular. It's all of us," said Kevin Love, who logged a team-high 37 minutes despite playing through a bruised knee for the final three quarters. "We just need to find our way. ... At some point, you need to start being about it. There's no time like the present; we've got to go out there and get it.

"I can keep saying we're better than our record indicates, but until we go out there and win games in a row and beat teams that we feel we're supposed to beat, we won't go anywhere."

As the Wolves have repeatedly stressed, it is not too late to find the missing piece needed to rise out of the current jumbled mess of inconsistency with the season nearing its midpoint. But at a certain point that window will begin to close rapidly. The question is what side of it will the Wolves be on when that juncture comes?

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
In this story: J.J. Barea, Kevin Love
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