The novelty has worn off. For many of you it probably did some time ago, but I couldn’t help but be enthused by my friend Ben’s smiling optimism. He can be quite influential, as I’m sure you know. So even as the losses piled up, I was able to take solace in Michael Beasley’s resurgence and Kevin Love’s historic breakout season. I saw the potential in Wesley Johnson’s deft touch and defensive energy and to this day I prefer him over the churlish petulance of DeMarcus Cousins. Even Martell Webster’s achy back proved to be a worthwhile addition. A bit of a chucker, yes, yet still a stabilizing locker room presence worthy of my trust. There were plenty of things to love about this basketball team. I wanted to believe and in order to be of any worth to you, our fair readers, I still need to. But nights like these make it hard.Very hard.
If you can’t tell by now, Ben wasn’t at last night’s game. For the most part, neither were the Timberwolves.
I’m tired of talking about Jonny Flynn. His shortcomings have been covered with exhaustive detail between these virtual pages; a willful ignorance of offensive timing, spacing, and tempo, an incurable lust for scoring to the detriment of his responsibilities, and nothing short of absolute blindness on the defensive end. In fact, other than a smile tailor made for toothpaste commercials, I’m hard pressed to note any of his redeeming qualities. It’s gone from disappointing, to discouraging, to comical, to outright maddening. To make matters worse, the trade deadline came and went, solely for us to be teased by erroneous reports of his departure. So with 1:57 remaining in a 22-29 contest and Sebastian Telfair molding away on the bench (DNP-CD-WTF), here was more Jonny. The only person happy to see him was Chris Paul.
The moment Jonny set foot on the court, Paul displayed his fangs and attacked. The first possession found Paul patiently dribbling away at the elbow. Kevin Love joined Jonny for a double team, but Paul burst around them both and exploited the defensive imbalance with a flick of the wrist and an assist to Aaron Gray. Then Paul immediately lost Jonny amidst the gaggle on the ensuing trip upcourt and pulled up over an outmatched Nikola Pekovic. Yet even after the previous two lessons, Jonny still inexplicably drifted into the corner to help two teammates defend a three pointer, only to see the ball sail over his head to Paul who was now open for three himself. The shot rimmed out, but it didn’t matter much. The head scratching incompetence of it all felt just the same.
There were some bright spots on this night for the home team; they started the contest with a determination and energy we haven’t seen in weeks and Luke Ridnour and Wesley Johnson combined for an impressively efficient 44 points, but the rest of their teammates failed to support them, eventually slogging about as if they knew it was all for naught. Michael Beasley was unable to consistently take advantage of his size over Trevor Ariza, bullying him into two early layups, but making just two of his next 13 attempts as Ariza became decidedly more physical. Jarret Jack matched the production of our entire bench (13 points) and Darko was intimidated before Emeka Okafor even got off the bus. I paid little attention to the score this evening, the game’s outcome wasn’t in doubt after that initial surge. In fact, the only numbers worth tracking were whether the Wolves turnovers would outnumber their three point percentage. It was a riveting contest. Final score: 19-25. But hey, Kevin Love got another double-double.
I remain one of his biggest supporters, but the cruel indifference with which many fans attend home games-the moaning, the taunting and of course the occasional smattering of boos-only to burst into raucous applause for such a relatively meaningless achievement is not only bewildering, it’s damn near embarrassing. As Kevin hauled in his 10th board late in the contest, I was startled out of my trance by of all things, a standing ovation. There were even placard scattered about the crowd counting each carom. Is this all there is left to look forward to?
The players certainly behave as such and to be clear, I wholeheartedly understand. This group may have the same record as years past, yet there was an entirely different air about them. Their malleability and the enthusiasm with which they approached each new opportunity was our oasis in a desert of defeats. But I speak of it in the past tense because it’s now gone. This is the 5th losing streak of 6 games or more the Wolves have suffered this season and it’s obviously taken a toll on our young men. Even in October the playoffs weren’t in sight and as this never ending winter continues, they’re struggling to find motivation. Professional pride will only take one so far, especially if it’s such effort is merely a torturous exercise in delaying the inevitable. Trust me, it takes a lot to make Michael Beasley slump out of the locker room the way he did tonight. This isn’t a pessimistic lot, but they are currently quite defeated and admitted as much post game.
“I’d be lying to you if I said we weren’t,” Love said when asked if the team was discouraged. “I mean, guys are trying to pick each other up. Every day we come in and play hard and work hard, because this is our job and this is what we have to do. But I’m getting a little discouraged. This is kind of turning into last year. I hate to say that.”
Hopefully it won’t last. Hopefully they’ll stumble upon the right combination of inspiration and circumstance for another galvanizing win. They have to keep playing and I have to keep writing.