MINNEAPOLIS — Playing the second night of a back-to-back after traveling, the Minnesota Timberwolves faded Monday as the Charlotte Hornets used a 34-22 fourth quarter to turn pull away for a 16-point win.
Fourth quarters haven’t been kind to Minnesota in back-to-backs. Losses have also lingered into the next game early this season for the Timberwolves, who return to action Wednesday against the visiting Orlando Magic.
“You know, I thought the rebounding got us probably more than anything,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said of the Monday loss. “A four-point game going into the fourth, and you’ve got to be at your best in the fourth, and the last two nights we haven’t been.”
The Timberwolves (10-7) have looked like one of the Western Conference’s best teams at times this season. They also have lost consecutive games three times, twice in back-to-back situations.
Unfortunately for the Magic , who have lost five consecutive games, Minnesota has a day off before hosting Orlando (8-9) on Wednesday. The Wolves have not had a three-game losing streak this season.
“Nobody’s happy with how we’re playing now,” Magic coach Frank Vogel said after his team’s 105-97 home loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday. “We know we have to dig ourselves out of a rut here.”
While Minnesota’s ruts have been shallow and short, Vogel is trying to keep the Magic on the right track as they begin a four-game road trip.
Vogel told the team’s website of his attempts to boost the players’ morale.
“That’s a big part of the job, especially in times like this,” Vogel said. “We’re doing the right thing — keeping our guys confident, keeping them moving in the right direction and keeping them understanding that winning is hard in this league, especially when you haven’t done it as a group. Thankfully, we built a little bit of a cushion early in the season and now we’ve got to keep our heads above water in this tough stretch of the schedule.”
The Magic’s homestand-ending loss to Indiana was disappointing after Aaron Gordon closed the gap to three points with 49 seconds remaining. Orlando was outscored 7-2 the rest of the way as the Pacers hit a 3-pointer and four consecutive free throws.
Center Nikola Vucevic led the Magic with 25 points and 13 rebounds, and he hit 3 of 6 from 3-point territory.
“We went away in the second half from what was working for us,” Vucevic said. “We lost our rhythm and started over-dribbling. We just got too stagnant. I don’t know why.”
Minnesota can commiserate as far as temporary slumps are concerned. The Wolves lost back-to-back games earlier this season without Jimmy Butler in the lineup, but the past two sets of losses might be more concerning.
A 24-point defeat at Golden State was followed by a loss to the Phoenix Suns. Minnesota fell 100-97 at home against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday before the defeat Monday, the Timberwolves’ third game in four days.
“It was tough,” said Minnesota reserve guard Jamal Crawford, who scored a team-high 19 points at Charlotte. “You don’t ever want to make excuses, and obviously we have work to do and we’re still a work in progress. We’re a long way from being where we will be. But I think that’s a good thing. We have something to work toward.”
Vucevic likely will match up with the reigning Western Conference player of the week, Karl-Anthony Towns. The Minnesota center had 18 points and 12 rebounds in the Monday loss. Jeff Teague scored 18 points and Butler added 14.
Four players are averaging double figures for the Wolves this season, led by Towns at 20.6 points per game.
“I don’t think we can keep a scorecard,” Crawford said. “When you’re playing without an agenda, some nights will be some guys’ night and some nights will be other guys’ nights.”
Evan Fournier leads the Magic at 19.0 points per game.
Orlando rookie forward Jonathan Isaac has missed four consecutive games with a sprained right ankle, and he might not be able to return Wednesday.
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