LOS ANGELES – If there was a sequence that you could bottle and show why the Timberwolves are 4-8 through their first 12 games, it happened at Staples Center in the final minute of their 114-110 loss to the Lakers.
It also had nothing to do with Jimmy Butler’s trade request and the ensuing drama around it.
Down one with 1 minute, 7 seconds remaining, the Wolves forced the Lakers to miss — then again, then again. But they failed to secure the rebound on each miss, and were finally forced to foul Kyle Kuzma with 9.2 seconds left. Kuzma made one free throw to put the Lakers up 112-110 leading to a final three-point attempt from an on-fire Derrick Rose (31 points on a career-high seven three-pointers), but Rose’s shot clanged off the rim, and the Lakers handed the Wolves their fourth consecutive loss on this five-game road trip despite the Wolves hitting a franchise record 20 threes.
“That’s the problem,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of his team’s defensive performance on the glass. “We’ve got to fix it.”
That’s the short answer to a problem that revolves around long rebounds. On the sequence, LeBron James, who finished one assist shy of a triple-double to go with 24 points and 10 rebounds, missed a three-pointer, creating a long board. Then Kuzma missed and the Wolves knocked the loose ball out of bounds. James missed again, leading to a rebound from Tyson Chandler, who got away with a hold on Karl-Anthony Towns. That led to Kuzma’s free throws. The Wolves still had a shot to win the game on Rose’s three-pointer, but that sequence took nearly a minute off the clock and shortened the game for the Wolves, who were trying to make up ground. The Lakers outrebounded the Wolves 47-40, and grabbed 12 offensive rebounds. The Wolves had done an OK job limiting them on the glass — until it really mattered.
“It was like we were flying around, trying to just locate it, but it just doesn’t come your way,” forward Taj Gibson said. “It seemed like these last couple road games, we’ve been really playing hard and the energy was there, the fight was there, just coming up short from rebounding the ball. We are a better rebounding team than what we showed.”
NBA opponents rebounding statistics
Only Washington has allowed opponents more total rebounds per game than the Wolves have given up so far this season.
The numbers showed the Wolves are the worst defensive rebounding team in the league, only grabbing 66.4 percent of all available defensive board. To guard Jimmy Butler, the onus is on guards to rebound better when other teams miss threes.
“It’s on us. The guards got to go get it,” Butler said. “We talked about how [Chandler] was going to back tap the ball and he did that multiple times and that’s on the guards to be at the elbows and get those long rebounds.”
Rose nearly rendered that possession irrelevant. He hit a pair of threes with under two minutes remaining to put the Wolves in position to win in the first place. At the end of the game, he had an open look from just to the right of the top of the key. The shot missed, but the Wolves felt Chandler fouled Rose. Thibodeau thought so, as did Gibson.
What about Rose?
“For you to ask the question you had to see something. You feel me?” Rose said. “And that’s no disrespect to you. They aren’t going to give me that call. They haven’t been giving me that call. I’ve just got to get used to it.”
But if the Wolves were able to rebound better, perhaps Rose would’ve have a few more chances to win it down the stretch.