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Updated: February 2nd, 2013 12:56am
Wessel: As usual, Wolves handicap selves with bad start against Lakers

Wessel: As usual, Wolves handicap selves with bad start against Lakers

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by
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves kept it close and fought to the end.

Of course they did. That has been their calling card all season.

They shoot themselves in the foot early, make some runs to get back in the game and then fail to execute in another frustrating loss. Afterwards, coach Rick Adelman lauds them for their fighting spirit and not giving up. 

The latest example came in Friday's 111-100 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers -- a game they once trailed by as many as 29 points.

Their lack of execution down the stretch has been what has killed them all year. They have now lost six straight and 12 of their last 15.

Despite their losing record, the Wolves have a knack for at least giving themselves a chance to win the game in the final minutes.

Last season, if the Wolves were going to lose, they were going to lose big. Twenty-seven of 40 losses from a year ago were by 10-plus points, but this year only 10 of 26 have been by double-digits.

Technically, this is considered progress, but it is a silver lining that only gets a basketball team so far.

This isn't hockey, in which you get points for coming close to a win. Nobody remembers the teams that fight to the end the same way nobody remembers the guy that almost got the girl.

"We can't just stay close," Adelman said. "We have to go out and finish a game."

Their inability to close out games all season long has stemmed from a few different issues.

The scoring this season has been done basically by committee without Kevin Love and the 26 points he averaged per game a year ago. Nikola Pekovic leads the team with 16 points per game and six others average in double-digits.

Balanced scoring is all well and good, but the Wolves lack any true go-to player in the fourth quarter who can get them a bucket when they desperately need one. The Wolves had hopes Brandon Roy could have been that player, but that didn't turn out either.

Adding to the problem is the jumbled guard rotation. Adelman is admittedly trying to figure out the best combinations on the fly of Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, Alexey Shved and J.J. Barea.

Now that the four are healthy and Rubio's minute cap has been lifted, Adelman has gone with Rubio and Ridnour to start. But the more important question is who should be finishing a game.

"The biggest thing is (figuring out what guards should be) finishing the game with," Adelman said.

It is a trial and error that a lot of teams go through early in the season, but because of injuries, the Wolves are still trying to figure it out in game No. 43. That typically isn't exactly conducive to making the playoffs.

Another problem created by the barrage of injuries, besides missing players obviously, is the lack of chemistry developed by the team. The Wolves have used 12 different starting lineups and have recently had to rely on significant minutes from Mickael Gelabale and Chris Johnson while they're on 10-day contracts.

The only real way to develop a rhythm is by playing together for an extended stretch of games and the Wolves have not been afforded that luxury.

Back when the season still had promise, it appeared the new-look Wolves were on the fast track to having the type of mental telepathy that good teams share. They improved to 4-1 in a 96-94 win over the Indiana Pacers after Andrei Kirilenko somehow found Chase Budinger making a desperation cut to the basket for the game-winning lay-in.

It appeared to be a sign of things to come. But then Budinger went down, Roy never returned and every player has missed a game since. The once-promising playoff hopes never looked as good as they did that night.

So, until some or all of these issues are fixed, the cycle will continue. Big deficit, strong comeback, failure to close out a game. Wash, rinse, repeat. 

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