After losing to all three Western Conference division leaders within the last four games, the Minnesota Timberwolves have a chance to get back on track against the worst team in the East. The trouble is, the East’s worst team is suddenly also one of its hottest.
The Timberwolves try to put consecutive lopsided losses behind them Sunday when they visit the Boston Celtics, winners of three straight games.
Minnesota (26-32) has dropped two games in a row and five of its last six, albeit with no help from the schedule makers. The Timberwolves fell 109-83 to the Northwest Division-leading Utah Jazz on Friday, three nights after shooting a season-low 29.6 percent from the field and also scoring a season low in a 91-65 loss to Dallas, the team with the NBA’s best record.
Minnesota did manage a 98-94 win over Southeast Division-leading Washington last Sunday, but lost 116-104 to the Phoenix Suns—owners of the league’s second-best mark—on Feb. 23.
“Obviously with the mojo we have going right now, these weren’t the greatest teams for us to see,” Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman said. “We have to keep fighting. That’s the bottom line.”
The losses to Utah and Dallas, which concluded a 1-4 homestand, marked the first time in franchise history Minnesota dropped consecutive home games by 20 points or more. The Wolves fired coach Dwane Casey after a 20-20 start to the season, but have gone just 6-12 since Wittman took over.
“Hell, we’re in March,” said Kevin Garnett, who scored 22 points to lead Minnesota on Friday but managed a season-low four rebounds, “and we still don’t have our identity?”
The identities of both these teams changed on Jan. 26, 2006, when they made a seven-player trade that sent Ricky Davis and Mark Blount to Minnesota and Wally Szczerbiak to Boston. The Timberwolves have won both meetings between the clubs since that deal, with the former Celtics playing pivotal roles.
Blount had a team-high 16 points and 10 rebounds in a 110-85 victory over the Celtics (16-42) four days after the trade. The center was strong again Feb 11, scoring 20 points to help the Wolves beat Boston 109-107. Davis led Minnesota with 28 points in that contest—including a jumper with 0.2 seconds left to seal the win—while Garnett had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for his second triple-double of the season.
The Feb. 11 matchup was the final defeat in Boston’s franchise-record 18-game losing streak. Although the Celtics still have the worst record in the Eastern Conference, they have recovered to win three straight games, including a 96-88 overtime victory at New Jersey on Saturday.
The Celtics stormed back after a woeful start against the Nets. They made only 10 of 48 shots from the field in the first half—including a 1-for-13 effort from star Paul Pierce—but rallied from an 11-point deficit in the last four minutes of regulation as Pierce and Delonte West made 3-pointers in the final 11 seconds to force overtime.
Al Jefferson had 32 points and 18 rebounds for Boston, while Pierce finished with 17 points on 8-of-28 shooting.
“What a great win for our guys,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who was teammates with Wittman on the Atlanta Hawks from 1983-88. “We were out of this game. We kept fighting back and hanging in there. They really executed the last two minutes, offensively and defensively. I couldn’t ask for anything better, even if we lost the game.”
This contest opens a four-game homestand for Boston, which defeated New York 102-94 at TD Banknorth Garden on Wednesday but is a league-worst 6-21 on its home court.