One of the NBA’s most perplexing teams this season has been the Minnesota Timberwolves, who carry a five-game losing streak into their Saturday matchup against the visiting Detroit Pistons.

Expected to contend in the Western Conference following the acquisition of center Rudy Gobert, the inconsistent Wolves are 16-20 heading into the final game of the calendar year.

Gobert sat out Minnesota’s 123-114 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday due to a non-COVID illness and is listed as day-to-day. With center Karl-Anthony Towns out indefinitely because of a right calf strain, the Wolves struggled to slow down Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The two-time MVP had 43 points and 20 rebounds against Minnesota, which led by 11 at the half but was outscored 39-22 in the third quarter.

“We lost the game at the beginning of the third quarter,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said. “We had about a half-dozen stops, but then we came up with empty offense. We just came out a little flat.”

The Wolves will aim for a more complete effort against Detroit, which has lost seven of its past eight games. The Pistons faded at the end of a 132-118 defeat against the host Chicago Bulls on Friday. The Bulls pulled away after leading by two points with 7 1/2 minutes left.

“It was definitely a winnable game until those final minutes,” Pistons rookie guard Jaden Ivey said. “We worked hard to put ourselves in that position. We’ve just got to lock in during the next game in those final minutes.”

Ivey had 22 points and six assists to lead Detroit, which played without guard Killian Hayes and forward Hamidou Diallo. Both were suspended for their involvement in an altercation against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.

Hayes will continue his three-game suspension on Saturday, while Diallo will return after serving his one-game punishment.

Detroit coach Dwane Casey is asking for an improved defensive effort after the Pistons allowed Chicago to shoot 57.6 percent from the field on Friday.

“We have some offensive-minded players, but defense is our problem,” Casey said. “We’ve got to buy in as a young team on the defensive end. Something’s gotta click. We need to find five, six or seven guys that are going to play on that end of the floor.”

Pistons forward Saddiq Bey has averaged 22 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in three career games against Minnesota, which is beginning a four-game homestand.

The Wolves are monitoring the status of guard Anthony Edwards, who had 30 points and 10 rebounds on Friday. Edwards gave the team a scare when he landed hard on his hip late in the fourth quarter and remained on the floor for several minutes before remaining in the game.

Forward Luka Garza, who had a season-high 16 points in the loss to Milwaukee, said the Wolves aren’t far from meeting their lofty expectations.

“We’re better than we’re playing,” Garza said. “A lot of these games are going down to the wire. There’s no team that we’re playing that looks like they’re way better than us. We’re in every game. We’re right there to the end in every single game, and I think that’s something.

“But at the end of the day, you’ve got to get those wins. We’ve got to do the little things, because they’re close games and the details matter.”

Minnesota has won the past five meetings against Detroit, which is shooting 44.3 percent (51 of 115) from 3-point range over its past three games.

–Field Level Media