Wolves seek bounce back after ugly loss at Philly

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 20: Tyus Jones #1 of the Minnesota Timberwolves at American Airlines Center on October 20, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The atmosphere in the locker room was likely pretty ugly Tuesday night after the Timberwolves lost at Philadelphia, 149-107.

They were facing their old teammate Jimmy Butler for the first time since the Nov. 12 trade. They were never in the game from the opening tip. Minnesota allowed 83 first half points in its worst defensive performance of the season. That’s saying something for a team that’s 20th in defensive rating and 19th in scoring defense.

The Timberwolves have allowed at least 120 points in nine games this season, and at least 140 points three times. There was no option but to have a spirited practice on Thursday after a day off.

“Came back great, as expected, in terms of energy. Some guys were ticked off, as well all should be,” Timberwolves interim coach Ryan Saunders said. “We wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouths.”

After the game, point guard Jeff Teague said the Timberwolves “played pretty” and doing that “gets you beat by 40.”

In a match-up of two of the NBA’s premiere inside players, Joel Embiid dominated Karl-Anthony Towns with 31 points and 13 rebounds. That includes shooting 4-of-7 from three-point range. Towns finished with 13 points and three rebounds in 28 minutes. It tied for his lowest point total since the Butler trade.

The Timberwolves downplayed facing their old teammate, though they would’ve enjoyed nothing more than beating Butler in Philadelphia. Instead, they lacked energy and got torched from the perimeter as the 76ers finished 21-of-42 from the perimeter.

“It just comes down to personnel and we didn’t follow some of the game plan and when that happens, the game kind of crumbles,” forward Taj Gibson said. “The NBA is all about game planning because you’re playing the best of the best. One small mishap can ruin the whole game.”

Jimmy Butler was in cruise control against his former team, scoring 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field in 28 minutes. He finished the win a plus-21.

To add injury to insult, the Timberwolves lost guard Tyus Jones late in the third quarter to a nasty-looking left ankle injury. He was driving in transition when it happened, went down writhing in pain and immediately to the locker room unable to put any weight on it.

Jones was at Mayo Clinic Square at Thursday’s practice hobbling in a walking boot. Saunders said he avoided a high ankle sprain, which can be a long-term injury, but has no timetable for his return. Jones had played at least 20 minutes in nine of the Timberwolves last 13 games.

“He’s always that one guy that you can’t never get mad at because he’s always in the gym, does everything the right way and to see him go down in that Philly game, that’s going to really hurt us,” Gibson said. “We just have to step it up and next man up.”

Saunders said they are looking at all possibilities and lineup combinations to replace Jones. It likely means more playing time for Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose and an increased load for rookie Josh Okogie.

Okogie is welcoming that challenge. He’s played at least 21 minutes in seven straight games. He scored 15 points in last Friday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks and added another 17 in Saturday’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

“It’s the best job in the world. I’m definitely not going to hit a wall. I love this game, I wake up every day ready to work so I don’t see a wall coming any time soon,” Okogie said.

But for now, it’s about bouncing back for the Timberwolves. They can’t change getting embarrassed at Philadelphia Tuesday night, but they can respond by beating the Spurs Friday. The three games after all feature non-playoff teams with Phoenix twice, and the Lakers as part of a West Coast trip.

The Timberwolves are 2-2 under Saunders as head coach and are looking to improve defensively. They’re allowing 122.7 points on average in those four games. They need to play “ticked off.”

“We had some messages that were talked about, and we’ll keep those in the locker room,” Saunders said.