MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders was disappointed in his team’s effort and energy level in Sunday’s home loss to Memphis. Without saying it, he suggested some of that might have had something to do with the opponent.
The Wolves have now lost twice to Memphis this year, dropped a game to Washington at home and needed a feverish late rally to best Golden State in overtime. Those three teams have some of the worst win-loss records in the NBA.
Reserve guard Shabazz Napier may have said it best Monday.
“Honestly, I think yesterday was we just didn’t come to play,” he said. “We didn’t show respect for the other team, and that’s what happens. I think sometimes you kind of forget that there’s other guys on that team that can play.”
Stooping down to the quality of their opponents is a problem the Timberwolves will need to address moving forward. Saunders is looking into it by evaluating everything the team does in those situations. But that’s an issue for another day. Minnesota doesn’t have to concern itself with its play against inferior opponents in the near future because it doesn’t play any.
Minnesota’s next nine games are against teams that figure to be playoff contenders this season. Six of those nine come on the road, including the next four.
Opponents on the team’s upcoming road trip, which starts Wednesday in Dallas, are the Mavericks, Thunder, Lakers and Sun. Last season, trips such as this one were crippling for the Wolves, who were swept on three different three-game road trips, one four-game trip and a five-game trip. Each of those sweeps dealt crushing blows to Minnesota’s playoff hopes.
But perhaps the Timberwolves are better prepared for such stretches this season. These Wolves look the part of road warriors. They’re 7-2 away from Target Center this season (as opposed to just 3-6 at home).
The reasons for the Wolves’ success on the road vary depending on who you ask. Andrew Wiggins noted the time the players spend together on the road, Saunders talked about the “us against the world” mentality that road games create, and Napier pointed out Minnesota has simply played more upper-echelon opponents at home.
All are true.
But this road trip will be different. The Wolves will face one quality opponent after another in the upcoming week. These are the types of trips in which one loss can quickly roll into another, and, before you know it, you’re below .500 and swimming upstream.
That’s what the old Timberwolves did, anyway. This is a prime opportunity for this year’s group to prove it is indeed different.
“We’ll learn a lot. This is a tough road trip coming up here,” Saunders said. “We’ve had good road wins so far, and we obviously feel good about those, and that gives guys confidence, I think, on the road. But these other teams, they’re teams that are competing in the West, and competing at a high level. So we have our work cut out for us.”