SALT LAKE CITY -- Not long before tipoff Friday night the Minnesota Timberwolves learned that Utah's best player and top scorer, point guard Deron Williams, would not play because of a sore right wrist.
Time to start getting worried.
You've seen this before, against a beat-up Charlotte squad. Or against Denver, when the Nuggets were missing three starters, but came to Target Center and won. Heck, you've seen all this before: shaky weak-side defense, turnovers by the dozens, and we mean that literally.
Friday it was the Jazz, which ended its six-game losing streak by getting a total of 57 points from forwards Andrei Kirilenko (27) and Paul Millsap (30), and by turning 25 Wolves turnovers into 30 points. When Friday's game was over it was the Wolves heading home with a six-game losing streak as the Jazz won, 108-100.
"We didn't come into the game ready to play," said Wolves head coach Kurt Rambis, who seemed a bit exasperated by it all. "We weren't focused on what we had to do offensively or defensively, and we didn't take care of the basketball."
Earl Watson, who started in Williams' place, had a double-double, with 10 points and 13 rebounds. C.J. Miles came off the bench to score 22 points.
That was more than enough to thwart the Wolves, though they got double-doubles from both Kevin Love (22 points, 15 rebounds) and Michael Beasley (16 and 11). Wes Johnson came off the bench score 19 points for the Wolves who, despite all their foibles, were in the game until rather late.
But sloppy execution got them again.
"That's a real frustrating number," said Wolves guard Luke Ridnour of the number of points the Jazz scored off turnovers. "That just fuels their fire. If they're scoring 30 points off turnovers, that's the game right there."
For all of the above, even after turning the ball over a whopping 11 times in the third quarter alone, the Wolves had a shot. Down by 11 early in the fourth quarter the Wolves fought back. Over the next 3 1/2 minutes the Wolves used a 12-2 run -- which included Johnson's five points -- to pull within 92-91 with 7:39 left.
But then things went awry. The Wolves went into do-it-yourself-mode, the ball stopped moving and the scoring stopped. The Wolves went six possessions without a point. By the time Ridnour got to the line for two the Jazz had rebuild its lead. There was one more mini-push. Love fouled out Al Jefferson (who scored just eight points) on a three-point attempt. His three free throws made it a three-point game with 1:37 left. But Kirilenko got a put-back, Beasley turned the ball over coming out of a time out and Miles was fouled and hit both free throws. Threat over.
"You see it," Rambis said. "Whenever we run things, do things right, we get easy scoring opportunities. When we don't, that's when we run into trouble."
Actually that goes at both ends. Against a Utah team that kept the ball moving all night, there were too many defensive breakdowns. At the other end there were way too many turnovers.
"And some of them were just mindless, careless," Rambis said.
So the Wolves head back home to face a Toronto team struggling about as mightily as the Wolves are. If there is one good thing about the NBA it's that there isn't much time to dwell on frustrating losses like these.
"People can't try to do it by themselves," said Love. We turned it over quite a bit. If we don't have 11 turnovers in the third quarter we might be ahead going into the fourth. ... Sometimes people will get the best of you. And tonight, their forwards got the best of us. And some of their other players, too."