“No excuses;” this is the chant emanating from NBA locker rooms across the land. In some ways, this allergy to excuse-making is an admirable trait, a willingness to take responsibility for one’s own performance. But it also carries with it a whiff of noble self-aggrandizement, of wishing to be seen as piously professional, as virtuous and manly. Oftentimes too, this righteous self-reliance can descend into a kind of absurdity, leading folks to elide what are not excuses, but actual reasons for a team or individual’s performance. For instance: the Wolves put on a grisly show in Los Angeles on Monday because they were clearly fatigued from their brutal west coast road trip. This is not an excuse but a reason.
Today is the darkest day of the year. There is snow everywhere. It is painfully late. Myles is trapped in some airport somewhere. We’re doing bullets tonight.
- This fatigue that I mentioned showed up in many ways. Rebounds and loose balls tend to be the hallmarks of effort and tonight was no exception. The Clips out-rebounded the Wolves–who, let’s remember, are among the Association’s best rebounding clubs–56-33 and were significantly more assertive to free balls. But this fatigue showed up in lots of other ways too. The Wolves were static and indecisive on offense. On defense, they were even slower to rotate and react than normal.
- But this rebounding disparity wasn’t just a matter of effort. It turns out that it actually helps to have tall players in the NBA. Without Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic, the Wolves’ were left in the meaty paws of Kosta Koufos. Koufos is a nice dude who tries real hard but, I’m sad to say (for a few different reasons), he’s no Darko.
- We’ve made a lot of Michael Beasley’s defensive shortcomings, as if it were only defense that were holding him back from becoming an immaculately scoring perennial All Star. But this isn’t the case; Beasley’s offensive decision-making is another dark area in his game. Two plays from Monday’s game. First: Beasley drives into the lane intent, as usual, exclusively on scoring the ball. Finding his way blocked by, like, seven defenders he pivots, looks, pivots again and finally, desperate shovels the ball back out. Too bad for everybody in the lane who had expected–with history and probability on their side–Beasley to shoot; three second violation. Jim Petersen says something that begins with “when your teammates know that you never pass the ball…” Nice. Second: Beasley takes and misses a contested, flat-footed three. He follows his shot well, but then rises up with the ball with, plainly, no plan for what to do with it. Dunk it? Finger roll it? Jump hook? Left hand? Right hand? How about none of those?
- If you are the Wolves and Ryan Gomes is slashing through your defense, and Randy Foye is nailing step-back jumpers, you know it’s a long night. The sight of Randy Foye languishing on the bench and then entering the game during garbage time to perform his old familiar overdribbling and shot-chucking routine has to make Wolves’ fans wonder: how will Jonny Flynn avoid ending up like this?
- All teams have bad games, games in which their offense is stagnant, their defense lifeless, their jumpers errant and flat. The problem is that in order to give themselves even a remote chance of winning, the Wolves simply cannot play poorly. When their energy flags, when their play is dissonant they almost literally have no chance to compete. They’ll do things like lose by 23 to the Clippers.
Happy solstice everybody.