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Nets’ starters can’t handle Timberwolves’ depth in loss

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns shoots over Brooklyn

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns shoots over Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Minneapolis on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. Credit: AP / Andy Clayton-King

MINNEAPOLIS — In an ideal world, the Nets would have the ability to rebuild around a young core of high draft picks the way Minnesota has been able to do. But the Nets don’t have those tools in their box, and their makeshift roster was no match for the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine on Saturday night at Target Center.

That trio of lottery picks led six Timberwolves in double-figure scoring on their way to a 129-109 victory over the Nets, who got 25 points from center Brook Lopez and 34 points from the rest of their starting lineup.

But it wasn’t the poor offensive output that concerned Nets coach Kenny Atkinson as much as his team’s inability to defend the athletic and efficient T-Wolves.

Towns was an unstoppable force in the middle with 37 points, 15-for-26 shooting, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots. Wiggins, who shot 9-for-18, added 23 points and LaVine (6-for-11) had 20.

The Timberwolves (18-29) also got 14 points and six assists from Ricky Rubio and 12 points and 10 rebounds from Gorgui Dieng plus 18 points off the bench from Shabazz Muhammad.

“I felt they dominated us,” Atkinson said. “We couldn’t stop them. Physically, I thought they overwhelmed us . . . I just don’t think our defense was acceptable. I didn’t think we contested shots. Our physicality was below average.

“We talk about having a road mentality. We didn’t have it tonight. We’ve got to find guys who want to defend and guard. It’s too hard in this league if you’re not defending . . . We let them run way too free.”

Asked if lineup changes might be in store to address their defensive issues, Atkinson said, “We’ll look at it. We’ve got to find the guys that want to defend and distribute the minutes appropriately. We’ve had a streak where we’re not defending. That’s not acceptable. That’s not the type of program we’re trying to run.”

The Nets’ bench had a big night with 50 points, but not big enough to offset Minnesota’s young stars. Sean Kilpatrick had another strong game with 14 points, first-round rookie Caris LeVert added 11 and rookie point guard Isaiah Whitehead had 10 points and eight assists. Of the starters, Spencer Dinwiddie had 13 points and Bojan Bogdanovic 10 as the Nets (9-38) lost for the 15th time in their past 16 games.

After losing the previous night in Cleveland with only 10 players available, the Nets’ manpower improved considerably with the return of starters Lopez (rest) and Trevor Booker (illness) as well as LeVert (rest). But it made no difference at the beginning as the T-Wolves took a 19-5 lead. Lopez scored the Nets’ first 10 points, including five in the 11-0 run that got them back into the game at 19-16.

“I think we’ve got to do better on a back-to-back and be ready to play,” Atkinson said. “Right out of the box, they took it to our starters, and then, in the second half, it was reversed.”

The Nets opened the third period with a 10-5 surge, including eight points from Lopez, to close the gap to three points. They hung tough until late in the period, when the Wolves put together a 13-2 surge to open a 16-point lead. The Nets’ failure to find any answers on the defensive end eventually doomed them.

Notes & quotes: Quincy Acy had five points in the final game of his second 10-day contract with the Nets and hit 11 of 17 three-pointers in 10 games. Atkinson sounded as if the Nets are giving serious consideration to signing Acy. “He gives us a physicality I think you need in this league,” he said. “He busts through screens; he’s not afraid of contact.”. . . Yogi Ferrell became the first member of the Long Island Nets to sign a 10-day deal with another team when he joined Dallas on Saturday . . . Joe Harris (ankle) is “progressing,” but Atkinson gave no timetable for his return . . . Forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played just eight minutes before sitting with a sore right ankle.

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