Timberwolves 102, Rockets 121: Home at last

All things end. Suffering is impermanent. Pain passes away. And so game 82 of the Wolves 2010/2011 season floats on into the ether. We’re getting older and time moves pretty quickly, but I must confess that this season felt awfully long to me. Its literally been months since I felt real optimism, since watching the games brought anything more than very brief flashes of hope amid the drudgery. The season is finally over. This is a good thing.

Maybe it was spillover from David Kahn’s cryptic press conference earlier in the day, or the sense of irrelevance brought by two non-playoff teams playing out the string, or just the distraction of spring’s fitful arrival, but there was a strangely unruly, haphazard aura in the Target Center on Wednesday night. I saw a nebbishy 14-year-old nearly get into a fistfight with his sulking little brother. During the Wolves rotten second quarter, two fratty-seeming dudes bravely attempted (and failed, although they really kept at it) to incite a wave. A couple of guys wore bags on their heads and held up “Fire Kahn” and “Fire Taylor” signs. Game host Natalie cried into the camera.

The mood in the locker room after the game–a typically disheartening 19-point loss by the depleted Wolves–was one of muted resignation. The players were resigned to the fact that they would be watching the playoffs on TV (much less fun, it seems, for NBA players than for you or me); to the harsh disappointment of 65 losses; to the fact that their own efforts may well have lead to the firing of their coach.

There was certainly a sense, as there has been for the past few weeks, that, irrespective of coaching, this team is missing something essential.  The culprits have been variously named: focus; maturity; veteran leadership; effort; health; even sheer talent. In any case, this game painfully demonstrated all of these yawning gaps in competence.

First there was the intermittent, unpredictable offensive cohesion. Sometimes the Wolves moved the ball intuitively and ran the floor with real purpose. Sometimes the ball movement died in the sludge of poor decisions and bad shots. Sometimes Michael Beasley decided to wild out, beating his chest, floating on his own cloud, essentially ignoring the confines of the offense. Sometimes this worked well, sometimes it didn’t.

But the real, red blood was shed on the defensive end. There was a moment in the third quarter when the Wolves were playing with a level of passion and intensity sufficient to disrupt the Rockets from their offensive designs. The Wolves were able to create turnovers and bad shots, to ignite their transition game and draw some energy from the distracted crowd. This was awesome and it lasted about five minutes.

But for the rest of the game, the Wolves were simply, absolutely, unable to prevent the Rockets from scoring. Rambis, who can be incredibly astute when he feels like it, pointed out that the Wolves defended, as they have all season, “reactively,” rather than “intuitively.” Instead of anticipating the flow of action, they react to it and, very briefly, think about it–by then its too late.  They were unable to navigate screens or close gaps on shooters. They allowed Chase Budinger and Goran Dragic to penetrate the lane with impunity. They gave cutters free reign to the hoop. I have written almost these exact words before. Even without Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola, these Rockets play offense beautifully. The ball snaps and flows; the players dribble and cut with purpose. As it does whenever the Wolves play a team that shoots and moves and passes this well, their (the Wolves’) defense tended to devolve into a confused, scrambling mess.

Simply put, the Wolves are an appalling defensive team and have been all season. Some of this comes down to individuals (Beasley and Anthony Randolph are particularly inattentive and mercurial) and some of it comes down to some mysterious cocktail of group effort, awareness and communication. But whatever the reason, their defense (particularly after the Corey Brewer trade) made it nearly impossible for them to compete and made this sad season what it ultimately turned out to be: one long, cold march.

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11 thoughts on “Timberwolves 102, Rockets 121: Home at last

  1. I will say this about Rambis leaving – his departure won’t land on me like Casey’s did (that is, a mistake).

    When you spoke of a crucial element missing from this team, what popped into my mind was leadership, and more specifically, the synergy between the best player and the coach. Think Duncan and Popovich, DRose and Thibidoeau (sp?), Martin/Budinger/whoever and Adelman, Utah and Sloan, even KG and Flip. I wonder if Rambis’ fatal flaw will have been the choice to let the young guys develop without holding their feet to the fire in a more dictatorial fashion, meaning he gave them a lot of responsibility to make their own choices out there – maybe a little too much.

    At the very least I never have gotten the sense that Love and Rambis’ leadership styles have any synergistic qualities. I think this team is primed for a more fiery coach, honestly an Adelman or George Karl type, one who delivers the exact same message as his best players, know what I mean? Love, Tolliver, and Martell can try to lead the Jonny’s, AR’s, and Beasley’s of this team, but what happens when those guys receive one message from their peers but get a more (in)different one from their HC? 17 wins is what happens.

  2. I appreciate the work that all of the writers on this site have done with their game recaps. It was actually critical without being cynical or emotional (which is part of the reason I stopped going to Canis Hoopus). I appreciate that, unlike StopnPop or Jerry Zgoda, you didn’t feel the need to feed any master narrative for games and pointed out what was interesting and important to know about each game.

    As for the season, I tried to reduce my exposure to the team so that it’d actually be fun to watch them when I did take the time. Even then, it was frustrating to see most of the players not give a s$#@ in games they could’ve won and generally lack sharp focus for even 36 of the 48 minutes. Even the guys who do care, like Tolliver, make dumb errors.

    Ultimately, if Rambis is fired, I think he’ll be done in by not getting this generation’s equivalent of Sam Mitchell and Terry Porter on his teams. Tolliver and Webster don’t play smart enough, and Webster falls into the same inconsistency as his younger teammates, just not as often. Cutting costs to the bare minimum isn’t always a smart long-term business decision, and I don’t think it is in this case. To me, Rambis is no worse a coach than Tom Kelly was a manager during the late 90s; TK needed talent that was ready (Torii Hunter was sent down during his 2nd year and both Mientkiewicz and Ortiz spent almost a year in the minors after spending a year in the bigs) and vets who could keep them focused.

    Overall, though I haven’t agreed with the way the roster has been built and managed, I’d still prefer no short-term solutions. At this point, their goal of building a title contender should still matter. They can’t overvalue Love or Beasley, and they can’t hire a coach who the players will play hard for initially and tune out after 2 years. I don’t expect Rubio here next year because of the lockout, but they need to take advantage of whatever benefits a low cap team might get from a new collective bargaining agreement. This is probably the weakest draft since ’06, but even then, a guy like Rudy Gay was passed over by 7 teams.

  3. Thank you for you analysis. I’m glad I found this page this season. It has made the suffering of watching the wolves play a little easier to bear. Maybe because I realize I am not the only fan left after all. What happens next we’ll see. I’d recommend and major front office cleanup before the draft. But it may be quite a while before I get to see my wolves play again so who knows who will still be associated with the team players/scouts/coaches/GMs. maybe even the ownership changes? Than might be where to start in order to make this a viable franchise. An owner that cares about winning and is willing to spend what it takes. An owner that isn’t satisfied with having a half full arena where most of the attendees paid a lot less for their tickets than face value.

  4. As a huge timberwolves fan it has been a struggle for the season, as it is for many of the timberwolves seasons in recent years. However, it must be said that I’ve loved reading this column, it has an intelligence about it that sets it apart from the other blogs of the same type. Thanks alot and hopefully in future years the timberwolves will at least start living up to the talent they have.

  5. PSR – good to hear from you again.e in the talent Ivan, welcome to the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of Wolves fandom. I will say one great thing about Wolves fandom is that there are so many possibilities present for how to succeed. It’s not like we’re just waiting for Kobe to take over and win the game. In some ways, I must admit, I love these bumbling Wolves for the sheer diversity of it all. It’s never just one thing, but rather a complex milieu of myriad factors that leads to our inevitable ineptitude.

    I do believe in the talent of these Wolves. Ruesse may scoff, but guys like Wes, Beasley, and Pek are legit NBA impactors. The talent level is there for 30-40 wins right now, with the right accountability, ruthlessness, and imagination. Laimbeer may very well be exactly what this team needs – attitude, deceptive shrewdness with both personell and x’s and o’s. At the very least, he brings an affinity for matching scheme to talent.

    I guess for me I buy into the talent level of this team. I don’t know what we do if we can’t draft Kyrie – trade Rubio I guess. This draft seems top heavy with PFs, and Franken knows we don’t need more of them. Nope, get the pick that lands Kyrie, trade Rubio for what you can get (vets???), and commence with a coach who matches his players. Rambis would’ve been perfect for KG’s latter years here, not rebuilding. He’s a vet’s coach, not a young buck’s coach.

    I never thought I’d say this, but in Love we trust. Dude is one in a million type talent. To be honest, I don’t know what he is. What I do know is that we would be fools to not keep him and build with him, and that we should take his uniqueness as an opportunity for innovation and reimagining the game instead of focusing on
    prior dogma. Find an HC who is synergistic with Love and I’ll show you a playoff teamin two years.

  6. First time responder – thanks for the intelligent analysis this year. It was about the only positive given a dismal season. My favorite post was your work pairing the Wolves with the Huxtable family and other dated sitcom.

    I very much enjoyed the sometimes obtuse, provoking, most often intriguing visuals that accompanied the text. Your work was a refreshing break from more typical rehashing of stats and mundane ditto speak which characterize sports blogs.

    1. Hey thanks again for the kind comments y’all. As you all know, internet comment sections can be the 12th circle of hell, but I’ve been incredibly impressed by the level of intelligence and thoughtfulness of our commenters. Thanks again.

  7. I have a theory that Ruesse hates everybody and that’s why he always writes scathing articles about everybody and rarely if ever says a kind word. Yes there is talent but it is raw and must be shaped. These kids needs a teacher that can show them how to use their talent and teach them that it is just as important to use it on the defensive side. Sometimes watching the games it looks like they all missed some fundamental training in their youth. I like your optimism and I’m with you. But I’m a little scared to see what will happen in the off season.

  8. Great job this season guys. I thought doing the True Hoop page for the Cavs would be bad but at least the Cavs can talk about how they lost Lebron, Jamison to injury for awhile, Mo Williams to injury for awhile and got some big home wins against really tough teams. We have another end of a season that was pathetic and the best chance at getting the number one pick in what is considered one of the worst drafts in years.

    You guys are saints for watching as many games as you did. I’m a NBA/pro hoops fan first and foremost but have always been on the wolves wagon. I saw my first wolves game at the Dome against the Hawks with Nique and Spudd and followed them through rough times mostly.

    I think Rambis as coach was a nice attempt at jump starting this team, but he has to go. I don’t think he was given a lot to work with but he mismanaged the team in big moments. Nice guy and I hope he gets a real chance again. I think Kahn has one season to prove himself and frankly, he needs to get this team at least over 25 games to save his job. He needs to either deal or sign Rubio this summer. He needs to draft the best player in the draft for the position he has and needs to have either Beasley play better or get the best value in a trade. This team needs to be less patient with results and Taylor needs to push that.

    Again, I can’t say it enough, thank you guys for doing this blog. It’s tough work and you analysis all season has been dead on. Even when the wolves were looking good in pre-season, you guys saw the issues of Beasley settling with jump shots. Kudos and cheers. Hope to see you guys on the court this summer. -TRL

  9. Add my compliments to the chorus – the posts have been beautifully written and possessing of insight, clarity and best of all, humor, all season long. As for Rambis, no matter the criticisms (and many, valid), he did not take the easy path. He very probably could have stayed an assistant with the Lakers and had a clear shot at coaching a championship team. That ship has sailed. Shaw will be the next head coach.

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