March 31, 2014

(AP) - Minnesota Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell had to catch himself on more than one occasion during games this season with a youthful team.

When the game was getting tight, one of his young players would make a mistake. Zach LaVine might rush a pump fake on his way to the basket and get called for traveling. Andrew Wiggins might force a shot in traffic. Shabazz Muhammad might lose track of his man on the weak side and get beat for a layup.

Sometimes the hard-nosed interim coach will lose it, letting them have it in frustrated postgame addresses. More often, he tries to take a deep breath and remind himself about the youthful inexperience of his team. The lumps they're taking now are part of a painful but necessary process, one which continues Sunday night on the road against the Brooklyn Nets.

''I have to rein myself in sometimes,'' Mitchell said. ''Sometimes I get a little overzealous or excited when we beat Atlanta, beat Chicago, beat some of these teams. I have to remind myself that Andrew Wiggins is 20. Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, guys we're leaning on are 20 years old. But I'm pleased that we're getting better. I think everyone can see that.''

The Timberwolves were one of the surprise teams of the league early in the season after getting off to an 8-8 start that included impressive road wins at Atlanta, Chicago and Miami. The flurry had their long-suffering fans - who haven't watched their team play in a playoff game since 2004 - hopeful that the longest-running postseason drought in the league was coming to an end.

They have lost eight of 10 games since then, dropping down to 10-16 and 12th place in the muddled Western Conference with home losses to Denver, Portland and Orlando in that stretch.

The Timberwolves, and many executives and coaches around the league, believe the end of those struggles is near. Wiggins and Towns - the last two No. 1 overall picks - look like future stars. LaVine has made huge strides as a combo guard. Add in Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng and Ricky Rubio and the Wolves have one of the most promising young cores in the league.

Their top three scorers - Wiggins (21.3 points per game), Towns (15.4) and LaVine (14.8) - have a chance to become the first trio of teammates in league history to average 15 points in a season they started as 19 or 20-year-olds.

Oklahoma City in 2008-09 with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and the 1996-97 Timberwolves with Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury are the only teams with two players hitting that mark.

Garnett, Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller are here to help the kids through the adversity.

Among the concerns to address is the youngsters' play on defense, which had gotten so bad recently that Mitchell was forced to return the veteran Prince to the starting lineup for stability.

''At some point they're going to get it, but they're not going to get it overnight,'' Mitchell said. ''If they did, we'd be the first team in history with a bunch of 20-year-olds that would have gotten it before anybody else. I'd like to think I can coach, but I realize I'm not that good. Some things are going to take time.''

And as hard as it is for fans to remain patient, it's even more difficult for the players.

''We're fed up with it,'' LaVine said. ''It's not like we like losing. We won 16 games last year. It's really annoying. We're going out there to win. We just need to learn how to put it together.''

The Nets (7-19) aren't doing any better. They've lost four straight overall and eight in a row on the road.

Their road record fell to 1-12 with Friday's 104-97 defeat at Indiana despite Jarrett Jack's 26 points, two off his season high. Jack was 3 of 6 from 3-point range following a 4-of-18 slump.

Brooklyn is the league's worst 3-point shooting team at 31.3 percent, also ranking last in 3s made (130) and attempted (416).

These teams have split the last six meetings, with the Nets winning 122-106 at Minnesota on March 16 in the most recent one.

An injured Garnett missed that game, so this will be his first playing against the team with which he spent a disappointing year and a half before being traded to the Timberwolves for Thaddeus Young at last season's trade deadline.

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