Rick Adelman clears the bench as sloppy Wolves fall in Memphis
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The Minnesota Timberwolves played as sloppy and sluggish as they had all season in Wednesday's 85-80 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Wolves (13-13) can use the excuse of playing in back-to-back nights without Kevin Love, who was serving the second of his two-game suspension. But their sixth straight loss to the Grizzlies was one of the poorest efforts the young team has put forward all season.
Coach Rick Adelman was so frustrated with the play of the starters that he shook up the lineup to start the fourth quarter. He put Wayne Ellington and Anthony Randolph into the game for the first time, reinserted Anthony Tolliver, Michael Beasley and J.J. Barea and gave them the final 12 minutes to see if they could provide a spark.
The Grizzlies (13-13) held a 66-54 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but a Barea 3-pointer capped a 7-0 run to pull the Wolves within 10 points with eight minutes left.
The reserves cut it to seven points with 1:35 left after a Michael Beasley jumper and had the opportunity to cut it even further after a defensive stop, but Randolph got stuffed going baseline. Marc Gasol hit two free throws at the other end to put the game on ice.
Credit must be given to the bench for continuing to gun for the win, but that wasn't enough against a Grizzlies team they will be gunning against for a playoff spot down the stretch.
The game was a fair fight, so to speak, with the Grizzlies playing without Zach Randolph (knee). Adelman went with the same starters he used in Tuesday's win over Sacramento -- Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson, Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic.
The Wolves put up a new season-low for points in a half, scoring only 34 over the first two quarters. Things got especially ugly in the second quarter, when the Wolves shot just 3-of-21 from the field, missing their last nine. In truth, they were lucky they weren't run off the hardwood at the FedEx Forum.
They trailed by as many as 16 in the third quarter before a 12-2 capped off by back-to-back baskets by Johnson, who had missed his previous seven shots.
Memphis took a timeout with 4 minutes left in the third and quickly regained their focus, going on an 8-0 run of their own to take a 66-54 lead heading into the final frame. That prompted Adelman to turn to the bench.
The starting guards struggled especially. Rubio, Ridnour and Johnson shot a combined 5-of-20 from the field and 0-of-6 from 3-point range.
Williams scored 13 points -- a high among the starters -- on 6-of-13 shooting but was just as responsible as the starters for the mass benching. The rookie was continually out of position on defense and had a pair of turnovers. He did add nine rebounds.
0: Assists in the first half for Rubio, the first time all season the rookie has held without a single assist in the first half.
17: Team-high points off the bench for Barea, who was key in the near-rally in the fourth quarter. He shot 4-of-9 from the field and 3-of-6 from behind the arc.
1: Rebound shy of a double-double for Pekovic -- which would have been his fifth of the season. The surging big man finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and a block in 28 minutes.
Darko Milicic did not make the overnight trip to Memphis because of the sprained right ankle he suffered at Monday at practice.
The veteran has now missed six of the last eight games because of an illness, a bruised left quadriceps and now the sprained ankle.
Adelman has hinted his patience with Darko is running thin. That, combined with the emergence of Pekovic in the last seven games, is a good indication that Darko may not be long for the starting lineup even when he does get healthy.
The only player other than Darko and Love not to make the trip to Memphis was Malcolm Lee, who is rehabbing from knee surgery and remains with the NBA Developmental League's Sioux Falls Skyforce at least through the weekend.
Lee played in the first game of his rehab stint Tuesday, scoring 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting. The rookie added six assists, three turnovers and two rebounds in 24 minutes.
The next game for the Skyforce is Friday against Idaho.
Love meets fans
Barred by NBA policy from traveling with the team during his suspension, Love announced on Twitter he would be making an impromptu experience on Wednesday afternoon to hand out autographed memorabilia.
About 20 to 25 fans met Love on the corner of Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street. The suspended All-Star gave out autographed swag and posed for pictures with everybody who wanted one.
"Just had some things I wanted to give away to them, but mainly just making my suspension worthwhile," Love said. "Just wanted to keep the Wolves fans integrated in everything we are doing, even when (the team are) in Memphis and I am back here."
Love said he was amazed at how many people turned up with just 15 minutes notice and he is looking forward to doing it again.
"Maybe we can make this into something bigger," he said.
On to All-Star Weekend?
The NBA announced Rubio and Williams were selected to take part of the Rising Stars Challenge on Feb. 24 as part of All-Star Weekend.
Love will find out if he will be joining his teammates in Orlando on Thursday, when the All-Star Game reserves are announced. He made it last season as an alternate and lost out on a starting gig this year to Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers.
"(It's) not really on my mind too much," Love said Wednesday. "Just trying to get through the suspension and get back out there. But obviously, they come out (Thursday), so I am crossing my fingers and hoping and praying that I am on the team."
"No, I don't want to get another two games."
-- Love, to a fan who requested he take a picture in which Love would pretend to step on his face.
The Wolves returned to the Twin Cities after the game and likely will practice on Thursday afternoon before welcoming the reigning NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks to the Target Center on Friday. They have already clinched the season-series against the Mavericks (14-11) heading into Friday's contest, outscoring them in the two previous games by a combined 32 points.
From there, the Wolves play their fourth game in five nights on Saturday, when the New York Knicks (10-15) make their first and only appearance in Minnesota on Saturday night. The Knicks will be shorthanded, playing without All-Stars Carmelo Anthony (groin) and Amare Stoudermire (grieving).