TORONTO -- The Minnesota Timberwolves slipped three games under .500 for the first time this season with a 94-89 loss at Toronto on Friday, a night when starting point guard Ricky Rubio again sat for the entire fourth quarter while J.J. Barea tried to will his team back into the game.
Unlike Wednesday's home loss to Sacramento, though, this one -- the Wolves' sixth loss in their last nine games -- didn't come and go in the visitor's dressing room at Air Canada Centre with the kind of desperation the last one did.
Barea worked the locker room afterward, encouraging teammates and calling a five-point loss to a Raptors team rolling since they traded away star Rudy Gay "progress" and praising the way his team defended.
"We played hard," Barea said. "If we play with that passion and that energy on the defensive side, we're going to be fine."
At 18-21, the Wolves now are 41/2 games behind Dallas for the West's eighth and final playoff spot. They had stayed at or within two games of .500 for the past six weeks.
Wolves coach Rick Adelman was asked about keeping that .500 mark in sight and if he's concerned, with the season's halfway point still three games away, that anything's slipping away from him and his team.
"You can't look at it that way," he said. "You've got to keep playing. You've got to just move on to the next game."
Adelman sounded mystified and miffed about his team's effort against Sacramento on Wednesday, a 111-108 loss in which his team showed little life until well into the fourth quarter.
He voiced none of the same concerns after Friday's loss. Rather, he mostly lamented Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry's six three-pointers, including a step-back one with 15 seconds left that finished a 5-0 Toronto run after the Wolves had pulled within 85-83 with 1:41 left.
The Raptors are 14-6 since they traded Gay away to Sacramento and at 21-18 overall are heading in the opposite direction from the Wolves in the much-less competitive Eastern Conference.
While Lowry scored a game-high 24 points, Rubio again sat and watched the entire fourth quarter for the second consecutive game while Adelman turned to Barea's feistiness.
"He's fine, he's fine," Adelman said when asked how concerned he's getting about Rubio's play -- six points on 2-for-6 shooting, four assists, four rebounds, two steals, zero turnovers Friday -- and body language. "I went with the guys I thought could win the game and we almost did. It just wasn't enough ... I played the people I thought could win the game. I'm not going to answer the question why someone did and why someone didn't play. That's obviously what I did."
On Thursday, Rubio acknowledged he's what Adelman termed a "perfectionist" who demands much of himself.
"I'm going to keep doing my thing, try to improve every day and try to play like me," he said after Friday's game. "I felt comfortable, better than the other day ... It's my team. I'm going to support them and even if I'm not on the court, I'm going to cheer for them. And if I'm on the court, I'm going to die for it and off the court I'm going to do the same thing."
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