1500 ESPN SportsWire

Loss to Raptors follows script that has haunted Wolves all season

by Nate Sandell, 1500ESPN.com Updated 19 months ago | 1484 reads

MINNNEAPOLIS -- Sunday played out like a mini-synopsis of the Minnesota Timberwolves' season.

Flashes of poise and aggressive scoring were tempered by damaging stretches of ineffectiveness. Opportunities were there, but they couldn't take full advantage. While never out of it, the Wolves simply couldn't muster enough production to overtake one of the better teams in the NBA.

At times, the Wolves were matching the Toronto Raptors shot for shot. At other times, and ultimately more often, Toronto hit a string shots to keep the Wolves' rally from being completed. Even with 50 points collected in the paint, Minnesota's 26 missed shots near the hoop added up to a costly blow.

"It's a game we just didn't do enough to win," coach Rick Adelman said of the 111-104 loss.

That has been a far too common theme for the Wolves (31-31), and the primary reason that likely only a miraculous run in their final 20 games could salvage their playoff aspirations.

Minnesota entered Sunday with wins in seven of their previous nine games, good for its best stretch of the season. But a deflating loss to the Knicks earlier in the week and the missed chance against the Raptors have delivered a punishing hit to whatever hopes the Wolves had of a late season rally.

Tied at 64 apiece just under the midpoint of the third quarter, the Wolves could never get any closer to the lead in the second half, despite trailing by only two with less than five minutes left in the game.

Whenever Minnesota rallied, it seemed Steve Novak or Terrence Ross found an opening to hit a stinging three-pointer (combined to go 8-of-10 from long range). Plus, DeMar DeRozan pitched in with a team-high 25 points to lead a balanced Raptors attack that proved to be too much for the Wolves.

"They hit a lot of shots. I felt like we played pretty good D, but offensive rebounds and kickouts really hurt us," said forward Kevin Love, who finished an assist away from a triple-double (26 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists). "Novak and (Kyle) Lowry played, DeRozan hit some shots and that was the game."

DeRozan also added to what has been a painfully familiar fourth quarter scene for the Wolves inside the confines of the Target Center.

With Minnesota already falling to the wayside for good, DeRozan nailed a three-pointer with a minute remaining that punched the deficit to 10 points. As a follow-up, he immediately turned and screamed in taunting fashion at the Wolves' bench as he sauntered back on defense.

The Wolves have been victim of the late taunt and jeer from their opponent's star on multiple occasions this season (Chris Paul, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony) -- another sign of their reoccurring inability to finish off games.

"It's tough. There have been a lot of losses like that this year," forward Corey Brewer said. "For us to be any good, you can't have losses like that. We've got 20 games left, we've got to do something with them.

The missed opportunities in close games have caused what in all likelihood is irreversible damage in a season ripe with ups and downs.

But as would be expected, coach Rick Adelman is preaching that Wolves must continue to push in the final weeks of the season, whether or not it is possible for them to catch Dallas, Phoenix or Memphis in the Western Conference standings.

"We can't approach it that way," Adelman said of the Wolves' glaring disadvantage in the standings. "We lost two games (in this homestand) and we've got to go out and win games we're not supposed to win. That's the way you have to approach it ... We've got to respond. That's the way it is."

Regardless, it may be too late.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
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