Ok, let’s take a deep breath. The Timberwolves are not going to start the season with an 84 game losing streak. They are not going to lose every game by 50. They are actually a real basketball team. And lets also take note of the fact that the past week’s blowouts came at the hands of some serious basketball teams. Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, the Lakers, even the Grizz and the Rockets (their strange record notwithstanding): pretty nasty. In any case, over the past two nights it’s been nice to watch the Wolves play two nicely competitive games and even (am I really about to say this?) pick up a road win for the first time in nine months. Observe me observing:
- I would be remiss not to lead off with Michael Beasley’s visit from the Cannot Miss a Jumper Wizard. Considering what one might expect a 42-point game from Michael Beasley to look like, this one was relatively free of ball-stopping and heat checks (at least in comparison with his typical 4-17 performance–Beasley is that rare bird who takes more difficult shots the worse he’s shooting). He was aided by Omri Casspi’s generous on-ball defense and Sacto’s generally sluggish pick-and-roll coverage which gave him ample space to shoot, particularly in his tranced-out 18-point first-quarter. But Beasley also made good decisions, particularly when running the Wolves three-man weave. And he shrewdly adapted his game by taking the ball to the basket when the Kings began guarding him more tightly in the second half. He really played an awfully nice game.
- One final Beasley observation: it’s remarkable how much more energy he plays with, how much greater presence-of-mind he shows, how much more purposefully he defends when he’s hitting his shot.
- Darko looked sharp with that mouthful of blood. It was a nice counterpoint to the gentle way he feathers the ball at the basket. I wanted to compliment him on his second straight merely mediocre game after that string of nightmares last week. And yes, his on-ball defense against Samuel D’alembert and Pau was definitely an improvement. But the guy has still missed 14 of his last 23 shots, most of them from within five feet. Barely mediocre.
- Games like this cause me to succumb to pleasant, summery daydreams imagining that Sebastian Telfair is a capable NBA shooter and thus, a viable NBA backup point guard. (This would be especially amazing considering that Mo Ager looks distinctly unsuited to the task.) Didn’t Bassie look composed and fluid hitting those calm step-back jumpers, like it was some kind of routine occurrence? One thing that helped: being guarded by Beno Udrih.
- The Wolves bring a certain edge-of-panic wildness to the task of running a half-court offense, like they’re playing a step-and-a-half faster than they’re really able. (This is particularly true when Corey Brewer or Bassie or Beasley are on the floor). When they’re not hitting shots this produces a nauseating turnover-ridden disaster, a total mess of traveling calls, ill-conceived jump passes and carelessly heaved cross-court giveaways . But when, like tonight, they are getting bailed out by supreme shot-making its actually kind of charming. To wit: Brewer’s awkward, falling-over fourth quarter floater; the play that ended the first half, in which Ager spent many seconds aimlessly wandering the backcourt before sort of fumbling the ball to Nikola Pekovic, who softly dropped it through the net as time expired. It’s ok to laugh now since they won, but really: have you ever seen so many ridiculous backcourt violations in your life?