Wolves find lost energy in rout of Jazz, but can it last this time?
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A glimpse at the Minnesota Timberwolves bench early in the fourth quarter revealed a sight that had been rarity in the last week.
Across the bench, guys were smiling, all five starters already finished for the night, enjoying themselves as they watched the reserve unit finish off a dominant 98-72 blowout of the Utah Jazz.
Saturday brought the tension release the Wolves desperately had to have.
Entering the night on three-game losing streak and three games below .500, Minnesota (19-21) took out its pent up frustrations on the Jazz.
"Just their whole attitude, you could tell before the game that they were ready to play," coach Rick Adelman said. "It was the win before the road trip that we needed ... I could just tell in warm-ups that they had a different energy level in them."
At least for one night, the prolonged stretches of lethargic play that have continually hindered them were nowhere to be seen. In a season Adelman described as "such a roller-coaster ride,' the romp was a continuation of a year-long trend of blowout wins and close losses.
To the Wolves' relief, Saturday was the better of the two options. The game was already well in hand when they stretched their lead past 30 points in the third quarter, making it their 10th lead of 30 points or more this season. No other team has done so more than six times this year.
In arguably their strongest defensive showing of the season, the Wolves kept the Jazz in constant flux.
Just before halftime, Utah's Derrick Favors tried four times to drop in a shot from beneath the basket, but Kevin Love's presence in the low post was just enough to render his attempts futile.
Favors' struggles summed up the Jazz's night, and Minnesota's defensive performance for that matter. The Wolves held the Jazz to a franchise low 28.8 percent shooting mark from the floor (21-of-73), and just 23 points in the first half.
The energy that Adelman sensed was palpable from the opening tip. Led by a noticeably vocal Love, Minnesota's defensive communication stayed at a high rate throughout the night. Strong defense made up for a slow start offensively -- Minnesota led 23-14 after the first quarter. Eventually, the shots started falling and the rout was on
"We set the tone early," Love said. "It kind of rolled over into that second unit. Like I said, we were just happy with how we played, how the ball moved, how we talked on D. From inside out, it seemed to work."
The relief the Wolves felt in the wake of the victory was obvious, as the postgame mood in locker room about as lighthearted as it has been at any point in the season.
But the win comes with an understandable note of caution. The Wolves have repeatedly been down this road, following poor outings with commanding performances, only to be done in one game later by repeated mistake.
Somehow, if the Wolves want to have any shot at making a playoff push, they must find a way to bottle up their effort from Saturday into a strand of consistency.
"I can take last night (a loss at Toronto) if you play like that, like you really want it," an at ease Adelman said of the win over Utah. "You take the losses. You're going to have some. But when you don't see that (energy), like you saw in the Sacramento game, then it becomes really difficult, because then you're just trying to find answers."
The tools to find those answers seem to be there, as the Wolves have largely shown in their 19 wins this season -- nine of those wins have been by 20 points or more. But they've also seen the disaster that can strike when that energy is absent.
Minnesota heads out next on a four-game road swing, starting Tuesday with a rematch with the Jazz. The upcoming trip could be another telling sign of whether or not the Wolves are capable of turning their season around.