Timberwolves need 2 wins before All-Star break

The Timberwolves are finally (sort of) starting to get back to full health, but they’re hoping it didn’t come too late to make a playoff push in the Western Conference.

The Timberwolves are back home after a three-game road trip that was supposed to offer them a chance to get back into the playoff mix. Instead, they went 0-3 at Memphis, Orlando and New Orleans. They’ve lost four straight and six of their last seven to drop to 25-30 on the season, and five games out of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.

The team that currently holds that spot is their Monday night opponent, the L.A. Clippers. The Timberwolves also host Houston Wednesday night before nine days off for the NBA All-Star break. Simply put, the Timberwolves face a couple of must-wins this week if they want to give themselves any chance of staying in the playoff picture.

The Timberwolves need to find a way to make up five games with 27 left on the regular season schedule.

“It’s big, we understand this is a team in front of us. For us to make some headway, win a tiebreaker or be in that picture,” interim coach Ryan Saunders said after Monday’s shoot-around. “So we understand the magnitude of this.”

There was plenty of drama at Mayo Clinic Square and Target Center earlier this season with the Jimmy Butler situation. But excuse or not, the Timberwolves haven’t played a lineup with all of their key pieces healthy for most of the season. That can be attributed to their struggles, especially recently, as much as anything else.

Robert Covington has played 22 games with the Timberwolves since the Butler trade, but has missed more than a month with a bone bruise in his knee. In those 18 games, Minnesota is 8-10. Jeff Teague had missed eight games with left foot soreness before returning last Friday at New Orleans. Tyus Jones will miss his 12th straight game Monday night after a sprained ankle at Philadelphia on Jan. 15.

Derrick Rose had missed six of the past seven games with an ankle injury, but said he will play Monday night. Needing bodies, the Timberwolves signed guard Isaiah Canaan to a 10-day contract two weeks ago. He started at played 31 minutes at New Orleans last Friday. He was re-signed to another 10-day contract on Sunday.

While Teague and Rose are expected to play this week, the Timberwolves still have a lot of work to do to get fully healthy.

“It doesn’t matter, regardless of the situation we’ve got to be ready, next man up. We’ve got to play out there at a high level,” forward Karl-Anthony Towns said. “Had a lot of chances to win, we wasted them. So it’s just another night where we’ve got to go out there and play 48 minutes.”

Towns has been playing at high level. In his last four games, he’s averaging 29 points, 12.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He’s also shooting 63.8 percent from the field.

Despite lacking bodies, four of Minnesota’s last seven losses have been by a combined 15 points. The Timberwolves led New Orleans last Friday by 18 points at one point in the first half before the Pelicans tied it at the half. Towns got the Timberwolves within two late in the fourth, but couldn’t get a defensive stop in crunch time.

The Timberwolves also lost 108-06 at Memphis, and lost at the buzzer to Denver on Feb. 2 after Luol Deng’s baseline jumper bounced off.

They’re banged up and down bodies, but they’ve also had their chances to win games.

“I think we’re playing hard, I just think we’re not executing. I think we’re not doing the little things and those are the things that win games,” Towns said. “You just can’t win purely off energy in this league, everyone is too smart and too good. We’ve got to play not only at a high energy level, but at a high intellectual level as well.”

The last few weeks have been especially frustrating for Rose, who has experienced plenty of highs and lows throughout 55 games. He had a historic and emotional Halloween night, scoring a career-high 50 points in a win over the Utah Jazz.

He nearly got voted into the NBA All-Star Game, but was also inactive for five straight games in late December and early January. He played five straight games in January, but has missed six of the last seven with right ankle soreness. Fighting adversity is nothing new for Rose, he’s done it most of his career.

He’ll be back on the court this week, and is hoping that sticks the rest of the season. Maybe he’ll even be part of a push for the playoffs. Regardless, it's a critical time for the Timberwolves in what's been a tumultuous season.

“We can make a push for it right now. We’ve got guys coming back very soon, I’m back tonight. It’s about just making one last push and seeing how far we can go,” Rose said. “Every game is huge now.”

The Timberwolves first three games after the All-Star break are at the Knicks (10-45), at the Bucks (41-14) and back home against the Kings (30-26).