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Updated: January 31st, 2013 12:26am
Wessel: Timberwolves' nice guy act doesn't serve them well

Wessel: Timberwolves' nice guy act doesn't serve them well

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1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves let the Los Angeles Clippers bully them in their own building in Wednesday's 96-90 loss and blew a great opportunity to open a crucial homestand with a victory.

Say what you will about the refs -- and fans certainly have on Twitter -- but sometimes the guys in stripes let them play in the NBA. When that happens, the more physical of the two teams will almost certainly get the advantage, and that team was clearly the Clippers.

The game flipped in the second quarter when Matt Barnes was ejected for delivering a forearm shiver to the neck of Greg Stiemsma">Greg Stiemsma. A minute later, Stiemsma earned a flagrant foul of his own for shoving Grant Hill. Ronny Turiaf and Caron Butler went to protect Hill and got technical fouls for their trouble.

From there, the tone was set for the more physical Clippers to push around the nice-guy home team. The Wolves did enough to erase an 11-point deficit and take a two-point lead with inside of five minutes to play, but the Clippers ended things on a 12-4 run to win the game.

That seemingly left the Wolves continuously throwing their arms in the air and whining for a call that just wasn't going to come.

The Wolves have now dropped five in a row and lost 12 of the past 15 as their playoff hopes continue to dwindle in a jammed Western Conference playoff race. The Wolves sit five games out of the final playoff spot with Dallas, the Lakers and Portland all ahead of them for that coveted No. 8 slot.

NBA teams learn valuable lessons about themselves throughout the course of an 82-game season and the Wolves certainly learned one Wednesday. On top of all the usual problems plaguing this team -- awkward guard rotations, the lack of a shooting guard and no go-to scoring option -- the Wolves were exposed as a team that shies away from physicality.

"We can play tougher," guard J.J. Barea said. "That is something that we have to learn. (We need to) stop being so nice."

Compounding the frustration of a tough loss for the Wolves was the fact they were finally dressing a respectable amount of players. The Wolves had 12 healthy players in a game for the first time since Dec. 26 as Alexey Shved and Nikola Pekovic made their returns.

Both made a smooth transition back to the lineup after missing five games. Pekovic had 17 points and 12 rebounds and Shved added 12 points and three assists off the bench.

The Wolves got another boost as coach Rick Adelman returned after missing 11 games while attending to his wife, Mary Kay, who has been battling seizures.

The Wolves need to make up some ground during this season-long six game homestand if they are serious about contending for a playoff spot. Five of the final seven games before the All-Star break are at home and the Wolves need to do something positive to erase the 12 losses they have suffered since the calendar flipped to January.

This extended period at home couldn't come at a better time with Shved and Pekovic returning. No, it isn't Kevin Love making another early return or Brandon Roy coming back, but this is the best the Wolves can hope for.

That is the reality of the 2012-13 season.

"I talked to the guys the last two days," Adelman said. "Other teams have turned things around and there is no reason why we can't."

One of those teams that has started to turn things around comes to town Friday. The Lakers had won three in a row before losing to Phoenix on Wednesday.

The Wolves have lost 19 consecutive games to the Lakers and, like Adelman said, if they are going to turn things around and be a threat down the stretch, this team can't let that streak get to 20.

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