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Updated: January 5th, 2012 2:47pm
Zulgad: Wolves' subpar performance serves as a teachable moment

Zulgad: Wolves' subpar performance serves as a teachable moment

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by Judd Zulgad

MINNEAPOLIS -- A gentleman sitting in the auxiliary press area at Target Center on Wednesday night looked on as the Minnesota Timberwolves prepared to face the Memphis Grizzlies and wondered aloud about how the home team would respond.

His point was a good one.

The Wolves opened a five-game home stand last Friday against defending Eastern Conference champion Miami. That was followed by back-to-back games against Dallas and San Antonio.

The Mavericks beat the Heat in the NBA Finals last spring and the Spurs had a 16-game winning streak against the Wolves.

Motivation against such foes would not be an issue. Those games provided the young Wolves with an opportunity to prove themselves.

Rick Adelman's team responded with a performance that came up just short against Miami before beating the Mavericks and Spurs.

The victories gave the Wolves a chance to pull to .500 with a victory against a Grizzlies team that entered Wednesday with a 2-3 record and without star forward Zach Randolph.

More than 17,000 Minnesota sports fans desperate to see a winner showed up for the mid-week game.

So how did the Wolves respond?

The disgust in Adelman's voice as he summed up what went wrong in an ugly 90-86 loss was all you needed to hear. "It was disappointing the way we played tonight," he said. "I don't think from the start of the game that we came at it with the right attitude."

The patrons at Target Center, some of whom had been moved to boo the home club, certainly had to agree with the veteran coach.

Adelman actually had cause for concern long before those fans arrived. As the Wolves went through shoot-around on Wednesday morning, Adelman realized he wasn't watching a team set on winning a third-game in a row. Instead, he saw a club that he later described as "lax" in its approach.

That carried over into the evening.

The Wolves trailed 8-0 before finally getting their first basket and were down by 15 points at one point. The fact the Wolves rallied to take a third-quarter lead or held a five-point edge in the fourth quarter mattered little to Adelman afterward.

This is a franchise that has won 32 games over the past two seasons. There was no excuse for coming out flat or believing a two-game winning streak meant they had achieved any measure of success.

"You haven't won anything," Adelman said. "How did you win them? Learn from (from those victories)."

The Wolves missed 11 free throws and committed 17 turnovers. It's already apparent Adelman is sick of seeing his team throw away the basketball.

At the Wolves media day last month, Adelman talked of having come into Target Center as coach of the Houston Rockets for the regular-season finale last year.

Both teams were out of the playoffs and had no little reason to give their full effort. The Rockets cruised to a 121-102 victory and even Adelman made it clear he was disgusted by the effort he saw from the Wolves.

One of Adelman's main goals in taking this job was to change that culture. Make sure he had a team that if nothing else put forth an effort and played smart basketball on a nightly basis.

He didn't see nearly enough of that on Wednesday and had no trouble pointing it out.

Although Adelman steered clear of naming names, the guy who already has to be driving him up the wall is Michael Beasley. In 36 minutes Wednesday, Beasley made five of 16 shots from the field, had a team-high five turnovers and scored only 11 points. (Wes Johnson, meanwhile, had no points in 16 minutes, another indication the Wolves don't really have a shooting guard.)

Beasley suffered a lacerated finger during the Wolves' victory over the Mavericks and talked about the difficulties he had playing with the injury after the loss to the Grizzlies.

But Beasley hadn't yet hurt his finger last Friday when he had only four points in 21 minutes against the Heat and did not play in the fourth quarter. He hadn't hurt his finger in the season-opener when he missed two crucial shots late against Oklahoma City. And the injury did not stop him from scoring 19 points in a season-high 43 minutes in the win over the Spurs.

Beasley's issue is that he seems to have little awareness of anything going on around him on the court. What's transpiring in the game seems to do little to dictate the approach he takes.

"I thought he took some tough shots again," Adelman said. "You have to let the game come to you a little better than that and not take tough shots. It seemed to be contagious on this team. You just have to trust your teammates.

"Especially early in the game you have to help your teammates out. Help the team and get things going. Then as the game goes on, you get a rhythm. I told them at the timeout (in the first quarter), we need to find a rhythm as a team. Everyone is trying to do it themselves. It's a process."

The Wolves will continue the process when they play host to Cleveland on Friday night before having a day off. On Sunday, they will begin a stretch of three games in three days that is the result of the condensed schedule caused by the lockout.

Adelman's savvy enough that he almost certainly saw Wednesday's performance as a chance to show his team what will happen if they think anything will come easily this season. The timing for that message isn't bad with the games in Washington and Toronto followed by a meeting with Chicago next Tuesday.

The important question will be whether Adelman's message will get through to Beasley and his teammates.

If it doesn't, it will be interesting to see how the head coach handles matters. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Michael Beasley