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Every game matters to a certain degree throughout the year. Some nights, for some teams, it’s simply a matter of playoff seeding — the Pacers are not overly concerned with tonight’s 101-96 loss to Detroit, except that it makes their goals of getting the number one seed one loss harder.
Other times, a loss can push a team in a certain direction, down a certain road. Tonight may not mean much at the end of January, but it meant something tonight. It feels like the Wolves really needed that win — they really needed to move over .500, not one game under it again. With a win, the Wolves would go home to face the fiery hot Trail Blazers with momentum, a one-game cushion and a chance to make a statement. Now, Minnesota is trying desperately to tread water, but there’s another swell coming, and when it pushes the Wolves two games under, it’s just that much harder to keep swimming.
The Timberwolves are 12-13. The Celtics are 12-14. If the Wolves are treading water, the Celtics are a beached whale that desperately needs to get back in the water and start sinking.
And yet, we have tonight’s result. Jared Sullinger scored 24 points and pulled down 11 boards…not quite Kevin Love’s line (27 points and 14 rebounds) but more efficient (Love was 9-for-26, Sullinger was 7-for-14). The Celtics shot 33 percent from 3-point range, but the Wolves shot 37 percent from the field overall. Opposite directions.
There were some positives to be sure. Alexey Shved scored 10 points and didn’t turn the ball over in 26 minutes. Dante Cunningham rediscovered his stroke, going 5-for-6 from the field. Gorgui Dieng actually finished a play off, scoring plus the foul.
But at some point, constantly looking at silver linings and saying “there were some positives, to be sure” feels empty. At some point, the inefficient chucking starts to get to you. The broken pick-and-roll coverage. The 14 offensive rebounds for the Celtics. The 11 missed free throws. The 28 percent shooting between Minnesota’s two best players. Getting out-hustled three times by Kelly Olynyk diving for a loose ball — three times that resulted in 5 points (which, incidentally, more than makes up the final deficit). The Wolves are a better team than the Celtics, and Minnesota should have won this game. Silver linings and all, this is a bad loss.
We thought the Wolves were a playoff team. They still might be — losses in mid-December by a .500 team don’t determine playoffs versus the lottery. But Minnesota is moving in the opposite direction, whether or not this loss matters in January.
The Wolves are one game below .500. It will now take two wins to keep treading.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.