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Minnesota Timberwolves fire coach Randy Wittman; McHale takes over as coach

Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Randy Wittman gestures to his players Saturday during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Minneapolis. The Timberwolves fire Wittman as their coach Monday.(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Timberwolves fired coach Randy Wittman on Monday, two days after an embarrassing 23-point loss at home to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Kevin McHale, the team's vice president of basketball operations, will take over coaching duties.

"There were certain goals and expectations that we had for this team at the start of the season, and we have not lived up to them," Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said in a statement issued by the team. "I am disappointed in our record and believe that we have more talent than our record indicates. A change had to be made and with three-fourths of the season remaining, there is still time to make substantial progress this year."

A news conference was scheduled for 2 p.m.

Wittman was 38-105 since taking over for Dwane Casey in January 2007. McHale picked Wittman to preside over the team's massive rebuilding project in the post-Kevin Garnett era, but Year 2 of the plan has not gotten off to the start he wanted.

Wittman went 22-60 in his only full season at the helm last year. The team entered this season with higher expectations, but is just 4-15. After keeping things close early in the season, the Wolves lost by 29 points at New Jersey on Friday night, then were blown out by the lowly Clippers at home on Saturday night to seal Wittman's fate.

"I want to thank Randy for all of his contributions to the Timberwolves through the years as both a head coach and an assistant coach, and wish him the best in the future," Taylor said.

Now it's up to McHale to try and turn things around, and he has experience in this type of situation. He went 19-12 in the final 31 games of the 2004-05 season after firing coach Flip Saunders.

"Kevin has assembled the players on this team, and believes in their talent and skill level," Taylor said. "It is my expectation that Kevin will be able to get the most out of our team and our players in his new role as head coach.

This young team just never seemed to respond to Wittman's hard-nosed approach, particularly during the current five-game losing streak in which the average margin of defeat was 16.8 points.

While Wittman has been preaching energy and effort, the Timberwolves have been routinely outhustled. They were outrebounded 54-38 and outscored 20-7 in second-chance points on Saturday against the Clippers, two telltale signs of a lack of effort.

Wittman started this season with defense as the top priority, harping on it throughout training camp and urging his team to commit to it at all costs.

Yet the Wolves have allowed at least 100 points in seven straight games and constantly give up easy layups and wide-open jumpers. Whatever the coach was trying to teach, it either wasn't working or wasn't sinking in.

On countless occasions in this young season alone, Wittman has been reduced to stomping his feet on the sidelines and yelling, "What are we doing?!?" with his hands in the air in exasperation.

The players said the onus was on them to get things turned around.

"You are going to have bad shooting nights. You are going to have nights where you're not as effective as you want to be. But, the effort has to be there every night," forward Ryan Gomes said after the loss to the Clippers, before the decision was made. "That's one thing. The hustle has to be there every night. Last two nights, it hasn't been there. You look at the games, look at the scores of these games and you can just tell by that, that something was wrong."

Five of the team's first eight losses were by six points or less, leaving hope that an adjustment here or there would key a turnaround and get things on track.

But things really went downhill last week. Losses at Charlotte, Orlando and New Jersey were ugly, but nothing in comparison to the drubbing delivered by the Clippers (4-16) on the Wolves' home floor in front of a smattering of fans on Saturday.

It's starting to look a lot like last year, when the Wolves were 3-16 at this point in the season. After jettisoning malcontents Marko Jaric and Antoine Walker and acquiring Kevin Love and Mike Miller, the Wolves expected more this season.

"We were in this position last year," Gomes said. "You look at our team and we have an improved roster and we are still in the same predicament we were in last year."