MINNEAPOLIS With just more than six minutes remaining in Thursday's 131-102 Timberwolves loss, Michael Beasley tossed a pass to Brad Miller as the two ran down the court.
The only problem? Miller wasn't looking, and Beasley didn't seem to notice.
It was a fitting move in a game like Thursday's, the Timberwolves' final game of the season and their worst deficit since March 2011. That pass Miller's focus and Beasley's utter carelessness was a metaphor for the season, one in which the maturity of a few could never tame the inconsistency and immaturity of the many.
And the worst thing about it was the headbands.
On Thursday, the Timberwolves all wore blue headbands in honor of Miller, whose retirement became official at the buzzer after at 14-year career. He's been a valuable veteran on the team this year, not so much for his presence on the court, but for his wisdom and experience in the locker room. There were tears and hugs, appreciation for the 36-year-old center when he left the game with four points, but none of that could keep the reality the team's failure in his final game at bay.
"I hate to see him go out in a game like that, because that's not how he plays," said Rick Adelman, who coached Miller on three different teams. "And even at the end of his career, he's going to give you anything he has."It's a lesson the Timberwolves would be wise to remember, how to retain focus and effort under the worst of circumstances, but Thursday's game proved it's far from resonating for Adelman's young team. It played like the season was already over, allowing Denver every point it made. Everything that happened was a failure on the Timberwolves part, Adelman said, rather than any special effort by the Nuggets. The Timberwolves allowed them to shoot an embarrassing 62.9 percent while being held to 44.9 percent, never giving themselves a chance to claim a lead.So yes, even with Thursday's loss, the Timberwolves will finish the season with a .394 winning percentage, their best since 2006-07. But that matters little, as it's become easy to forget everything the team did well in February and early March. What resonates is the ending, this one-win April and the team's two worst losses that rounded out the year."It's always better to end the season on a positive because then you can turn the whole thing around," Adelman said. The coach was speaking in a bigger sense, and a win Thursday wouldn't have dramatically changed the tone of the rest of the year. Still, though, it would have helped. It would have given just a small indication that the team still cared. Instead, the night became what Adelman called a statement game. Many players showed him that they were finished playing a game early, leaving him perplexed at best.As painful as it was to watch, the statement the Timberwolves made on Thursday might have been just what Adelman needed. It wasn't what he wanted in any way "That's not the way I want to do things," he said postgame but it reinforced his calls that the team needs to make personnel changes in the offseason."We've got to improve this team," Adelman said. "I really feel there's some people on our roster that we really like. They're solid roster players, but we have to improve the group."It was nothing new, though. The performances that most discouraged Adelman did nothing more than reinforce the conclusions he's been drawing in recent weeks, he said. As usual, Nikola Pekovic and J.J. Barea played consistently, finishing with 18 and 20 points, respectively. That's come to be the routine in the season's final weeks, just as have uninspired performances from Martell Webster, Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams Wes Johnson and Anthony Randolph. Williams finished the night with just four points and saw less playing time than Anthony Tolliver and Malcolm Lee, and though Wes Johnson got the start, he had just six points in 18 minutes.Just four days ago, most players still refused to point fingers, to say that their teammates were giving up. Tolliver was one of them, but with the season finally finished, he admitted that a performance like Thursday's looks a lot like giving up."It said some guys want to be here and some guys don't," Tolliver said. "I think it was pretty obvious sometimes out there on the court."If the team is going to be a contender in six months which Adelman said he'd like to see before the game a lot needs to be done between now and next fall. Part of that will be roster moves, but there will be plenty of familiar faces on the Timberwolves' bench next season. For them, Thursday should be a screaming message."This is not the way you do things," Adelman said. "I want them to remember that, because that's not what we want. It's not what we had earlier in the year, but we gave in."The Timberwolves gave in to their record, to the pattern of losing they established in the season's final months. They refused to rise above their problems, to find something to play for in their final game. Knowing Denver was a better team, that it had a playoff spot to contend for, seemed enough to make the Timberwolves roll over, and that kind of lax attitude is the kind of thing Adelman won't stand for.Adelman is maybe the best thing that happened to the Timberwolves this year, and he hasn't given up. He's plotting for the future already, and he knows which players belong and which don't. But no matter where they stand in their coach's estimation, all of the Timberwolves would be wise to look to Miller for a hint of what could have been and what could still be.When asked after Thursday's game what Adelman meant to him, Miller unleashed a sort of choke-sneeze hybrid and began to cry."That's what he means to me, right there," Miller said. "I'll tell you that much."The Timberwolves have a coach who can bring to tears a player who's retiring to hunt bucks full-time. Adelman has inspired that loyalty and admiration in players throughout his career, and the Timberwolves have a chance to capitalize on that, to improve and learn from him. Adelman is invested in this team. Now, it's players need to stop letting him down.
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