Wolves fall to Detroit, hits 60-loss mark for the season
By Jerry Zgoda
Minneapolis Star Tribune
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The last time the Minnesota Timberwolves passed the infamous threshold they reached Tuesday night with a 115-103 loss at a place called the Palace, Bill Blair coached and Christian Laettner and J.R. Rider anchored a group that lost 60 or more games for the fifth time in the franchise’s first six seasons.
The suffering of that 21-61 season 13 years ago yielded the fifth selection in the summer draft and brought a precocious prep player named Kevin Garnett to town.
Who knows what another 60-loss season will bring this time to a team that won five of its first 39 games and 16 of its final 41?
"That number doesn’t mean ...," Wolves coach Randy Wittman said, his voice trailing off. "If you look at that number, 60 means we’re trying to move forward and learn on the way. That’s what we’re doing. We lost a lot of games early in the season because we didn’t know how to win them. We’ve made progress."
The Wolves’ defeat on Tuesday ended a two-game road winning streak and guaranteed they will enter the May 20 draft lottery with no worse than the fourth-most combinations to win the No. 1 overall pick. Thus they will have their choice of two potential franchise-changing college freshmen, Kansas State forward Michael Beasley and Memphis guard Derrick Rose.
Whether the Wolves own a 15.6 percent or 11.9 percent chance at winning in a game of chance will depend upon, barring a Memphis victory at Portland late Tuesday night, the outcome of their season finale tonight against Milwaukee and a Grizzlies game in Denver the Nuggets must win.
The last time the Wolves and Pistons played, Detroit coach Flip Saunders rested his three All-Star players and his collection of reserve players erased a 21-point, second-quarter deficit to win 94-90 at Target Center. That was 16 days ago, April Fool’s Day.
On Tuesday, with the Pistons assured of the Eastern Conference’s second seed, Saunders played Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton but measured their minutes and brought all three to the bench for the night with barely a minute gone in the fourth quarter.
By then, the Pistons led 88-74. They took command of the game with a 12-3 run fueled by reserves Jarvis Hayes, Lindsey Hunter and Jason Maxiell that ended the first half and provided a 52-43 lead at intermission.
"We actually played better against those guys than we did that other group," Wittman said, referring to the Pistons’ stars. "The worst we should have been down at halftime was six — could have been three — and we were down nine. But I still felt pretty good."
The Pistons won for the 58th time this season, two fewer victories than the Wolves’ number of defeats. Al Jefferson experienced three long seasons in Boston but never had lost 60 games in a year until Tuesday.
Jefferson had a game-high 30 points and nine rebounds. Rashad McCants added 19 points and Ryan Gomes 14 for Minnesota.
"If you look back, we lost a lot of games early in the year that we wouldn’t lose now, " Jefferson said. "It has been a learning process I don’t think we’ll go through again."
- Forward Craig Smith missed his third consecutive game because of a collarbone/breastbone injury and said he won’t play tonight.
- It appears point guard Sebastian Telfair played his last game this season when he sprained his ankle March 7 in Sacramento. Wittman said the six-week absence shouldn’t affect the team’s decisions this summer, when five of the Wolves will become restricted free agents, including Telfair.
"He moved in a positive direction from where he was before the season, and I think he learned a lot about how to play in this league," Wittman said.
PISTONS 115, WOLVES 103
Snyder 2-5 1-4 5, Gomes 5-10 1-2 14, Jefferson 12-26 6-10 30, Foye 6-14 0-0 13, Jaric 4-5 5-5 13, McCants 8-17 1-2 19, Brewer 4-5 0-0 9, Richard 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 41-85 14-23 103.
Prince 4-6 2-3 10, McDyess 4-8 2-2 10, Wallace 1-4 3-4 5, Billups 4-8 8-8 17, Hamilton 8-17 0-0 18, Stuckey 2-8 5-5 9, Maxiell 3-6 3-6 9, Hayes 7-12 3-4 20, Ratliff 0-1 0-0 0, Hunter 4-6 0-0 9, Afflalo 1-1 0-0 2, Johnson 2-2 2-2 6. Totals 40-79 28-34 115.
Minnesota 23 20 29 31 — 103
Detroit 24 28 34 29 — 115
3-Point Goals — Minnesota 7-17 (Gomes 3-4, McCants 2-7, Brewer 1-1, Foye 1-4, Jefferson 0-1), Detroit 7-14 (Hayes 3-5, Hamilton 2-3, Hunter 1-2, Billups 1-3, Wallace 0-1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Minnesota 45 (Jefferson, Gomes 9), Detroit 53 (Prince 7). Assists — Minnesota 23 (Foye 9), Detroit 24 (Billups 6). Total Fouls — Minnesota 22, Detroit 21. Technical — McCants. A — 22,076 (22,076).