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Ugly Wolves loss shows they turn immature when Conley isn't playing

In a conversation last month with Timberwolves President Tim Connelly, the subject of point guard Mike Conley Jr. came up.

Conley was already establishing himself as something close to the perfect point guard for the Wolves: Someone who could unify, a player who could calm things down, a guy who didn't need a high volume of shots but could score when needed and a sorely needed veteran presence.

The Wolves were 15-4 at the time, and Connelly said this about his point guard: "I can't imagine our team without him."

We could see why on Monday, and it didn't require the use of imagination.

Conley, 36, took a night of rest while the Wolves played the lowly Hornets at Target Center. It seemed like the perfect chance for the veteran to get some maintenance on his body without doing any damage in the standings. And indeed for three quarters, with the Wolves holding a 107-92 with 12 minutes to play, all at least appeared well.

But as I talked about on Tuesday's Daily Delivery podcast, everything fell apart in the fourth quarter. It was threatening to unravel all game, as head coach Chris Finch would say postgame, but the Wolves paid the price with a stunning 128-125 loss to one of the NBA's worst teams.

The Wolves had been flirting with this sort of result against subpar teams in recent days, riding big finishes to needed wins over Detroit and Memphis. Conley played both of those games, providing some of the glue necessary to make enough winning basketball plays down the stretch.

In his absence Monday, there was no such grit. Finch called the defensive effort "disgusting" and the overall approach "immature" in calm but pointed postgame comments.

It did not matter a bit that Karl-Anthony Towns delivered an epic offensive night, finishing with 62 points. Indeed, KAT's heater might have been part of the problem as things cooled down late.

And it showed just how much their supposed maturity — which might just be a proxy for more talent at times — hinges on a point guard who is on an expiring contract and who has averaged 61 games played per season over the past five years.

Even a minor Conley injury this season has the potential to be devastating. Long-term, whether by force of age, contract status or both, he doesn't figure to be around all that long or playing at this high of a level if he is.

The Wolves still have some growing up to do. We can't think of them as mature — a key attribute for a real title contender — if they only act that way when their most mature player is around.

Here are four more things to know today:

Kent Youngblood joined me on Tuesday's podcast to talk about Lynx free agency and the surging Gophers women's basketball team. Minnesota as a very winnable road game Tuesday at Wisconsin; the men's team has an important home game against the Badgers as well.Also on today's show, I talked about Joe Mauer and the lack of suspense in his bid for the Hall of Fame. Still, when he almost assuredly gets that call around 5 p.m. Tuesday, it will be a landmark day for Minnesota sports and the Twins. Jim Souhan has good perspectives on Mauer; I'll have a bonus edition of Daily Delivery on Tuesday evening featuring La Velle E. Neal III talking about Mauer.On Wednesday's show, I'll go deeper on the backlash to my Monday piece about Packers playoff misery — a chance to rethink my perspective and dig deeper into why it touched a nerve.Joel Embiid had 70 points AND the 76ers beat the Spurs. So it can be done.