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Updated: March 5th, 2014 11:35pm
Wolves let critical opportunity go to waste in glaring loss to Knicks

Wolves let critical opportunity go to waste in glaring loss to Knicks

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A golden opportunity was there for the Minnesota Timberwolves' taking.

On a night in which Dallas and Memphis, both of which are ahead of the Wolves in the Western Conference standings, ultimately lost,  Minnesota had a critical opening to gain ground in a playoff race they were already clawing to stay in.

The Wolves had plenty of factors in their favor entering Wednesday night -- winners of six of their last seven games, finally back home, seemingly infused with momentum from a 4-1 road trip and facing a freefalling New York Knicks squad that had lost seven straight.

Instead, Wednesday rapidly turned into a debacle, one the Wolves could barely avoid to suffer through. The aggression and sense of urgency they had shown in the last two weeks dissipated soon after the opening tip-off.

"We were a completely different team than the way we were playing on the road," said guard J.J. Barea after the Wolves stumbled their way back to .500 (30-30) with a 118-106 loss.

The Wolves had no answer to New York's scoring bursts in the first quarter and into the second, the deficit growing as large as 17.

A revitalized showing in the third quarter brought them within one point of tying the game. But eventually the Wolves reverted into the shoddy defensive state they had been in earlier, unable to do enough to stay afloat against a hot-shooting Knicks attack led by Carmelo Anthony's 33 points (14-of-27).

Back in front of a home crowd for the first time in two weeks, Minnesota looked far from the playoff-worthy team that it spent the road trip trying to prove it could be.

"I don't know. I guess now we play better on the road," said forward Kevin Love, shaking his head, sitting at his locker after he was held in check (19 points, 6-of-17) by the Knicks' sizeable frontcourt. "We just have to bring it upon ourselves to get more energy out there. Nobody else is going to help. We've got to do it ourselves."

As the Wolves have known since before the All-Star break, the time to find the energy for that turnaround is running out.

There weren't many valid excuses to fall back on Wednesday. In a season of distinct ups and downs, the loss to the Knicks was arguably one of the Wolves' worst of the year given the stakes.

While it can be argued by some the season is already lost, statistically Minnesota remains in reach of catching Dallas, Phoenix and Memphis in the standings.

Phoenix lost on Tuesday, meaning coupled with Dallas' loss Wednesday, the Wolves would have drawn within four games of the last two playoff spots with a victory. Instead, with 22 games left, they are stuck five games back.

They didn't lose any ground in the standings, but opportunities lost at this point in the season are severely damaging.

However, coach Rick Adelman isn't looking at it that way.

"We're behind them, but we can't give in and say, 'This is a killer,'" Adelman said. "I know everybody is going to say that, 'You shouldn't lose to the Knicks. It's a killer.'"

"We just have to go out and beat Detroit (Friday). We lost this game ... I don't worry about if this is going to be really damaging. I worry about the way we played and the way we're going to play against Detroit."

It's the way the Wolves have to think about the season at this point, but the window for ending a nine-year playoff drought may already be closed, or at the very least dangerously close to being slammed shut.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
In this story: J.J. Barea, Kevin Love
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