Wizards lose to “tougher” team in Minnesota

This won't slow him down. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) This won’t slow him down. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — The Wizards were headed toward a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves long before they lost Bradley Beal to a left knee injury. So while they await Beal’s MRI results to determine the severity of his latest injury, the Wizards quickly tried to move on from a 120-98 loss in which they were severely outplayed by Minnesota.

Coach Randy Wittman said the problems, especially on the defensive end, were evident “the whole game” but the breakdown was glaringly obvious in the second quarter, when the Wizards surrendered 39 points – the most in any period this season – and went from leading by three to trailing 14.

“They played harder. They beat us up on the boards. They were more physical than us. They attacked the basket, we didn’t, and they came out with the win,” Trevor Booker said of the Timberwolves. “We had a pretty bad practice [Thursday] and I think it led to” the performance.

The Wizards (12-14) took two days off to spend the holiday with friends and family before having a late-night practice the day before the game. But they didn’t appear to be headed toward their worst loss of the season when they scored the first nine points of the game.

Minnesota made a solid run to close out the first period but Martell Webster hit a midrange jumper to put the Wizards ahead 25-22 early in the second quarter. From there, the game quickly unraveled as the bench, which had finally started to perform better in road wins in New York, Brooklyn and Boston, regressed during a game-changing 13-1 run in which Washington had as many turnovers as field goal attempts (three). It probably didn’t help that Kevin Seraphin was forced to sit with a sore right knee.

The Timberwolves went ahead, 35-26, when Nene and Webster fought each other for an offensive rebound and Nene mistakenly tapped in the shot.

But Nene’s blunder was merely a symptom of the Wizards’ greater problem of consistently surrendering offensive rebounds and second-chance points to the Timberwolves. Nikola Pekovic, who was credited with Nene’s tip-in, had three of his six offensive rebounds in the period and Minnesota held a 10-0 edge in second-chance points. Wittman said Minnesota was the “tougher” team.

“They outhustled us. I don’t think we played the way we supposed to play. I don’t think we came out hungry,” Gortat said. “It’s not easy to come back after a little break like that. At the end of the day, we still should be ready to come out to play. but I guess we didn’t do that. We’re not mature enough.”

With the game slipping away, Wittman put in John Wall, Trevor Ariza, Gortat and Booker, and the Wizards scored the next four points but were unable to cut off driving lanes for J.J Barea and repeatedly fouled the Timberwolves. Minnesota shot 10 of 11 from the free throw line and 14 of 23 from the field.

“They was more aggressive. First team that comes out and is more aggressive, they get those calls that you probably don’t get,” Wall said. “They got whatever they wanted. A team is doing that, giving them second chance points and then they are making shots. There is no way you’re winning that game.”

Wall made three driving layups near the end of the period, but the Timberwolves kept delivering the answer – a three-point play by Pekovic, a Ricky Rubio reverse layup, and Kevin Love hook shot to send his team into the locker room up 61-47.

“Down [14] at half, kind of like we was in DC, and we found a way at home to fight back,” Wall said, recalling the last meeting on Nov. 19, when the Wizards rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to pull out a 104-100 victory. On Friday, Wall said, “we just didn’t put that extra effort in.”

The Wizards will get the Detroit Pistons on Saturday, another team with a solid front line with former Georgetown star Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and Josh Smith. The Pistons already dominated in season opener by pounding the glass. Seraphin again won’t be available against the Pistons but Webster hopes the Wizards learned from the letdown in Minneapolis.

“Allowing them to play that bully ball down there, that’s when you’ve got to match that intensity and we didn’t do that,” he said. “They had more energy. We bailed them out a lot – they shot a tremendous amount of free throws (38). Just got away from the Xs and Os, the simple things. Those are things you can’t do. Us, collectively, it was a sloppy performance and we’ve got to get back to Wizards basketball.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.

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Michael Lee · December 28, 2013