Frustrations are mounting in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves -- who are a top-10 team by pace-adjusted point differential -- can't seem to win a close game.
It's a spiral of bad luck and poor execution, and on Wednesday that combination led to Minnesota's coughing up a six-point lead to the Suns with 1:36 left. Error begat error, until Minnesota's hold on the game was severed entirely by Phoenix swingman Gerald Green's go-ahead jumper with three seconds remaining. A 104-103 loss dropped the Wolves to 0-10 in games decided by four points or fewer and seemed to send star forward Kevin Love over his boiling point.
One could isolate any number of factors (shoddy half-court defense, effortless rebounding, costly turnovers) for Minnesota's poor performance in close games, or the basis for this late-game loss in particular. But what seemed to irk Love most was the fact that the team wasn't on the same page, as exemplified by two frustrated, nameless Wolves keeping their seats on the bench during timeouts. Love brought this after the loss, per Nate Sandell of ESPN Radio:
"We can't have two guys sitting at the end of the bench, who play good minutes, just sitting there and not getting up at timeouts," Love said. "We all need to be in this together. That kind of pisses me off. We're supposed to be a team."
...Love kept going when asked again about the situation.
"It's to a point that where those two guys, if and when I did that last year when maybe I didn't sit out for the game for 48 minutes and so on and so forth, they would have killed me," Love said. "They would have aired me out. It's two guys we expect more from them, and I think they expect more from themselves."
"I'm not trying to single anybody out, and I don't want to make it bigger than it is. That was a team we needed to beat tonight. Even guys that didn't play any minutes, we need to have a team on the bench that's really in it together."
The two Wolves in question are all but confirmed to be J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham, with Barea having already taken exception to Love's criticism of the bench after a Dec 30 loss to the Mavericks. Both were removed with 8:07 remaining in the fourth quarter on Wednesday, just as Minnesota's lead had begun to dwindle. What's odd: The timing of the substitution was typical to coach Rick Adelman's fourth-quarter patterns, but it's possible Barea could have been bothered by something more specific. Ultimately, though, Minnesota's starters were outscored by 12 points in 23 minutes, including that costly seven-point surrender over the final minute and a half. Love shot only 4-of-20 from the field and finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds. The Wolves fell to 17-18, good for 10th place in the Western Conference.