Timberwolves’ defense continues regression in loss to Oklahoma City

  • Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams, left, of New Zealand keeps the ball at arms length form Minnesota Timberwolves' Gorgui Dieng, of Senegal, in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

  • Minnesota Timberwolves' Noah Vonleh, left, runs into Oklahoma City Thunder's Mike Muscala in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)



It was just last week when the Timberwolves were winning games with their defense. That, Josh Okogie said after a win over Portland, was who the Wolves are.

Or, who they were?

It’s certainly not who the Wolves are at the moment.

After an eight-game stretch in which Minnesota sported the NBA’s top defense, it’s now been shredded in consecutive games.

After giving up 139 points in a loss Saturday to Houston, Minnesota was again gashed Monday in a 117-104 loss to Oklahoma City at Target Center in front of a less-than-raucous crowd that was announced at a generous 11,044.

The Thunder shot 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep. Danilo Gallinari scored 30 points, but was outshone by teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The second-year standout tallied 20 points, 10 assists and 20 rebounds — a gaudy total for anyone, let alone a guard.

When informed of that total after the game, Okogie was in disbelief.

“He had 20 rebounds?” Okogie said, before turning to Robert Covington for confirmation. “That’s crazy. …I don’t even know what to say to that.”

It’s the type of rebounding production Timebrwolves coach Ryan Saunders has sought from his guards all season in hopes of it sparking transition opportunities, to no avail.

Andrew Wiggins had one rebound Monday. No Wolves player grabbed more than five. As a team, Minnesota was beaten 51-37 on the glass.

Minnesota scored along with the Thunder for the first half, trailing 63-60 at the break, but Oklahoma City pulled away from there, extending its lead to as many as 18 points.

Naz Reid tried to bring Minnesota back in the fourth quarter. The big man got hot from 3-point range, and finished with 20 points for the game — all in the second half after battling foul trouble early in the game.

“He made it an interesting game,” Wiggins said. “He came in, gave us great minutes, knocked down some big shots and made plays for us.”

But it was to no avail.

The Wolves (15-24) couldn’t get the requisite stops to ever threaten a rally. Oklahoma City (23-17) ate Minnesota alive off the dribble, which led to easy buckets at the rim and open kick-out 3-pointers — much of what plagued the Wolves during their 11-game losing streak earlier in the season.

Asked what the difference is between the defense Minnesota was playing as recently as last week and the product it’s putting on the floor, Wiggins responded, “To be honest, I don’t even know.”

He and the Wolves better find out, and soon. The schedule doesn’t get much easier.

Six of the Wolves’ next seven games are against teams that made the playoffs a year ago and are sure to do so again this season. Of those six, one is against Houston and one is against Oklahoma City — the two teams that just torched the Timberwolves.

“I’m not even going to stress it,” Okogie said. “We’re going to be just fine. We just had two bad games, that’s cool. We have a game on Wednesday (against Indiana), and we’ll be ready for that.”

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