With every contending team in the Western Conference winning, seemingly, every night, any loss can seem demoralizing.
The fourth through 10th teams in the West separated by a total of three games in the loss column, no one can afford a loss, let alone a poor stretch of games.
Take the Minnesota Timberwolves, for example.
Once sitting in third place in the West, Minnesota has tumbled without star Jimmy Butler. The Wolves started Sunday’s game against Houston — a possible first-round matchup — in a tie for fifth place. New Orleans’ win earlier in the day led to a true, four-way tie for fifth with the Pelicans, Utah, San Antonio and Minnesota all at 40-30.
When the Wolves’ comeback bid against the Rockets fell short in a 129-120 loss, they tumbled to eighth in the conference.
“We put ourselves into too big of a hole,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You can’t do that. Where we are right now, the fight has to be greater.”
The Wolves host the Los Angeles Clippers (37-32) on Tuesday with Los Angeles clawing for any foothold in the climb to the playoffs. Just two games back in the loss column to Minnesota, the eight-place team, Los Angeles is lamenting its own slip.
Sunday’s 122-109 loss to streaking Portland was the Clippers’ third in a row.
“We realize we don’t have a lot of room for error,” Los Angeles guard Lou Williams told the Los Angeles Daily News. “There’s a lot of teams that don’t have a lot of room for error. Dire is one word, but at the end of the day, we can only go out and play as hard as we can.”
After trading star Blake Griffin, the Clippers didn’t seem like a playoff team. But Williams has continued his big scoring and Tobias Harris, who came over for Griffin, has averaged 20.1 points per game. Patrick Beverly, Avery Bradley and Danilo Gallinari are still out with injuries, but guards Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic have gotten healthy.
Williams scored 30 points Sunday against the Trail Blazers. DeAndre Jordan had seven points and 16 rebounds.
Instead of health, travel might be the issue for the Clippers. Sunday’s game in Los Angeles was their third in three cities in four nights. It was a one-game stop at home before beginning a four-game road trip at Minnesota. The Clippers are in a stretch of nine out of 11 games on the road.
“At this point, we’ve just got to win games,” Austin Rivers told the Daily News. “I don’t care if we have to play five games in five nights, we’ve just got to win games. Everybody’s tired right now. Everybody’s bruised. Everybody’s trying to play catch-up.
“We’ve dropped a couple of games in a row. We’ve got to get it back going.”
Minnesota is hoping to draw on their comeback attempt against Houston and bring the same energy all game against Los Angeles. The Wolves trailed by as many as 25 to the Rockets before closing to within five points.
Jeff Teague had 23 points and 11 assists. Andrew Wiggins scored 21 and Karl-Anthony Towns had 20 points and 18 rebounds.
Newcomer Derrick Rose supplied a spark during the rally and finished with 14 points.
“He’s just got to keep doing what he’s doing,” Thibodeau said of Rose. “He’s playing great defense. I don’t think people see it. He did it in the Washington game. We need everyone playing well.”
The loss was Minnesota’s fifth in seven games.
“We wanted to win,” forward Gorgui Dieng said. “Everybody likes to think about playoffs and every game matters. It was very disappointing.”
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