Wessel: Same old storyline pushes Wolves closer to playoff extinction
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Déjà vu. Groundhog's Day. A reoccurring nightmare. Pick your cliché.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have entered a vortex where the same storyline plays out game after game. The body count keeps rising and the losses keep piling up.
There was a perfect snapshot of the season so far for the Wolves with 5 minutes, 36 seconds left in Thursday's 90-77 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Alexey Shved rolled his ankle and limped straight to the locker room, bored fans streamed to the exit and the few remaining healthy Wolves couldn't make enough plays down the stretch to get back into a game.
It wasn't just Shved the Wolves lost. Earlier in the second half, Nikola Pekovic limped to the locker room with what was later diagnosed with a quadriceps contusion. Both were scheduled to be revaluated Friday and are questionable for Saturday's game against the Rockets.
"I have never seen anything like it," veteran Luke Ridnour said.
The season is in danger for the Wolves, whose fifth consecutive loss dropped them to 16-20, three games back of eighth place in the Western Conference.
As Ridnour pointed out after the game, January is separation month in the NBA. Teams use the time before the All-Star break to set themselves up for a run towards the playoffs. The cream rises to the top and the cellar dwellers assume their position at the bottom.
The injuries to Pek and Shved hurt the Wolves going forward, but they weren't what lost this game. Despite returning home and throwing Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams into the starting lineup, the Wolves continued the same sloppy, cringe-inducing basketball that earns you a season-long losing streak.
The only team on the court that seemed to care less than the Wolves was the Clippers. Playing without their point guard and leader Chris Paul, the Clippers were playing their third road game in four nights and clearly only wanted to expel as much energy as they absolutely needed to -- which wasn't a whole lot.
The shooting was atrocious. If it weren't for Luke Ridnour and his 21 points, they might have called this one at halftime. Rubio (2 of 9), Pekovic (1 of 8) and Williams (3 of 9) shot a combined 6 of 25. The bench was a combined 8 of 30.
"We are in the middle of storm," acting head coach Terry Porter said. "This is like a perfect storm right now in regards to the games playing out the same."
The players continue to say the right things and not point fingers, but frustration is mounting. The high expectations for this season combined with the perfect storm of injuries have left the Wolves at a crossroads of sorts.
"Tough times right now," JJ Barea said. "We just need to stay together and come back out on Saturday and change it up."
Stick together and weather the storm, or fall apart and watch the once promising season circle the drain.
It isn't only the games this season that are reminiscent of one another. This is an eerily similar situation that played out last season. The Wolves were in playoff contention. Then, they lost Rubio, a few more injuries stacked up and they waved the white flag.
Now, even earlier than last season, the Wolves have lost a star in Love, have plenty of other injuries and find themselves needing to pull together or have the franchise's NBA-long playoff drought extend to nine seasons.
The Wolves have hung up five straight lifeless losses on the board and continue to slip further away from contention. They need to snap the losing streak and find the right formula soonm or they won't be playing for a spot in the postseason. They'll be playing for ping pong balls in the draft lottery.