Late-game collapse sends Timberwolves into All-Star break with loss to Hornets

In a December 30 game, Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders disputed a call against the Brooklyn Nets at Target Center.
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By Kent Youngblood Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (TNS)

MINNEAPOLIS — Fans hoping to see the new-look Timberwolves all together, for the first time, on the Target Center floor might have been disappointed.

Following the big trades that reshaped the team’s roster, a full house came Saturday only to learn D’Angelo Russell was out. Wednesday at Target Center, center Karl-Anthony Towns was relegated to a very animated cheerleading role, a brace on the sore left wrist that kept him out of action.

Over the next four quarters the Wolves looked very much like the team they were before all the trades.

Up 18 in the first half, up 16 at the half and up 13 with 3:39 left in the third quarter, the Wolves lost, 115-108, to a Charlotte team that has now won just two of its last 16 games.

The Wolves (16-37) scored 66 points in the first half, just 42 in the second. They shot 23 for 48 in the first half, just 16 for 52 in the second.

Malik Beasley had 28 for the Wolves, and D’Angelo Russell had 26. Juancho Hernangomez had 16 points and 12 rebounds. Charlotte got 28 points from Devonte’ Graham and 26 off the bench from Malik Monk. Miles Bridges had 18.

It was Minnesota’s second-biggest blown lead of the season.

The Wolves were up 16 at the half and were still up, 84-71, with 3:39 left in the third quarter. Over the next 6 minutes and 52 seconds the Hornets went on a 22-5 run to take a 93-89 lead on Willy Hernangomez’s basket with 8:47 left in the game.

The Wolves took the lead two more times, going up 98-96 on Russell’s 3-pointer with 4:54 left.

Minnesota went scoreless for nearly 4 minutes before, down 104-100, the Wolves finally scored when Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo accidentally tipped in a Wolves miss with 2:07 left.

But Bridges hit two free throws with 1:43 left, then Graham nailed a 3-pointer with 54 seconds left to put Charlotte up 109-102 and ice the game.

Charlotte used a quick 5-0 run to tie the game at 10-10 early. But the Wolves then quickly took control of the rest of the quarter. Johnson and Beasley began an 11-1 run that also included a fast-break layup by Okogie and three free throws by Juancho Hernangomez mid-way through the quarter that put the Wolves up 21-11.

The Wolves held that lead for most of the rest of the quarter, taking a 36-28 lead into the second quarter. Beasley had nine points in the quarter, Juancho Hernangomez and Okogie seven each.

The Wolves kept their foot on the gas to start the second quarter, opening it with a 7-2 run to go up 13. Moments later, back-to-back 3s by Russell and Beasley were part of an 8-0 run that pushed the Wolves lead to 53-37. That lead reached 18 on Naz Reid’s basket with just over 4 minutes left in the half.

With the Wolves missing five straight shots the Hornets scored nine straight to pull within 57-48 on Graham’s basket with 1:50 left in the half.

But the Wolves scored nine straight in less than 1 1/2 minutes. Okogie scored. After a Hornets miss Russell drove into the lane and scored on a finger roll, got fouled, and made the free throw. Then Okogie stole the ball then fed Beasley for a slam dunk. McDaniels’ tip-in at the buzzer made the score 66-50 Wolves at the half.

That lead was down to just six, at 71-65, after the Hornets opened the second half on a 15-5 run capped by Graham’s two free throws just 3 1/2 minutes into the quarter.

The Wolves pushed the lead back to 13 on Beasley’s 3 with 3:39 left in the quarter, but the Hornets finished strong, 10-3, to pull within 87-81 on Bridges’ three-point play.

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