Nuggets 103, Wolves 101: Work smarter not harder

Zach Harper —  February 21, 2012 — 28 Comments

That was not a fun way to lose a basketball game.

Denver’s side of it will talk about how they gutted out the win with depth and heart and all of that crappy romance novel stuff that people love to spit after a win like this. And on some level, it’s completely valid. Ty Lawson injured his ankle in the first half and never returned. Then Andre Miller acted like a petulant teenager to the refs and was thrown out, leaving Denver with something called a Julyan Stone (I think you can get one from Crate & Barrel) to run the point.

Denver did outhustle the Wolves. They were active in the paint, fought for every loose ball and seemed to want to rebound more than the Wolves. Several times, it looked like guys on the Wolves were looking for someone else to grab a rebound, while Denver chased down the ball like it was a historic artifact in the National Treasure movie franchise. Kevin Love ended up with a 20 and 13 night, which doesn’t sound bad at all until you watch Kenneth Faried destroy him on the boards in the second half and overtime (Love had five rebounds, Faried had 10).

But let’s get down to the embodiment of what went wrong in this game – the Martell Webster blunder.

I’ll admit that when the Wolves stole the inbound pass and Webster high-tailed it up the court, I was certain we were headed to double overtime. You don’t often see plays like that in which the team that was desperate for possession ends up screwing the pooch on the opportunity once they take it. You definitely don’t see it often that when a team is down three in the closing seconds of a game, and without a timeout, that they go for a 2-point shot instead of hoisting the 3-pointer.

When I first saw Martell decide not to slow up to pull up for the 3, I started looking all over the court for shooters. Maybe he was going to kick it back to Ricky after drawing the defense away. Maybe he was going to sling it over to Beasley. Maybe there was a new rule in which clutch dunks counted for more than two points. As he continued to dribble toward the basket and as he took off for the dunk, I became completely bewildered by the events unfolding in front of me.

It’s not like Martell is new to this. He’s been in the league since 2006. Apparently, he assumed he would get fouled. He wasn’t aware that as soon as it was clear he was going for the dunk, guys on Denver started cheering and celebrating their valiant victory. I was furious at this moment. I had rants on rants on rants in the DDL because I couldn’t believe that this was the way the Wolves would blow their chance at climbing over .500 yet again.

When I woke up this morning, I realized that I wasn’t mad at Martell, but at the entire team for blowing this opportunity. Martell Webster didn’t lose this game for the Wolves. He just punctuated the mediocre effort.

Sure, the Wolves played really good and scrappy defense in the second half. Luke Ridnour perfectly defended Arron Afflalo down the stretch. The Wolves were active to get Al Harrington to miss shots after the second quarter. Bodies were flying everywhere and the Wolves blocked four attempts in overtime alone.

However, the effort and execution wasn’t there once Pek went down with an injury. The Wolves made just 39% of their shots at the rim. Part of this was the block party the Nuggets had last night. They blocked 11 shots and really tried to set the tone for this being a tough game inside. The Wolves also blew a lot of layups and interior shots. Pek went 2/7 inside, Love went 3/9 and Rubio made just two of his eight attempts at the basket. Minnesota found ways to get into the lane and at the basket and yet they could convert even the most basic of plays, like when Ridnour misfired on a point blank and uncontested layup that would have tied the game with 17 seconds left in overtime.

The scary thing is the scoring inside wasn’t even the biggest problem of the game. The biggest problem of the game was two-fold. The Wolves couldn’t make a 3-pointer and they played horrific transition defense.

Someone has to inform the Wolves they can’t shoot 3-pointers anymore. It just isn’t there. With their gorgeously ineffective 6/27 effort from Antoine Walker Land last night, they are now 23rd in the NBA in 3-point percentage. I know they were fifth in the NBA last season, but this isn’t last season. The Wolves take the 12th most attempts per game at 19.8 per contest. Even if you factor in the idea of effective field goal percentage (adding and extra half to each 3-pointer made because of the extra point), the Wolves are still 21st in the NBA in that.

The Timberwolves need to STOP SHOOTING 3-POINTERS BECAUSE NONE OF YOU CAN MAKE THEM. Beasley is the only decent 3-point shooter on the team this season (unless you want to count Brad Miller’s 1/1). Beas is shooting 42.6% from three, which is phenomenal. After that, nobody else is above 35.6%. Only Wayne Ellington and Kevin Love are above the league average of 34.7%. And the Wolves can’t stop shooting them because it’s some kind of addiction they need to go to rehab for.

As for the transition defense, this continues to be a problem. At a certain point, it becomes a matter of pride and effort. Wolves gave up 29 transition points to the Nuggets with 18 of them coming in the first half. It was how the Wolves went from being surprisingly ahead against a tough home team in the first quarter to down five at the half and in need of a gut check. Minnesota just refused to get back in a timely fashion. Denver averages 20.8 fastbreak points per game – first in the league. They almost had that after the second quarter. That’s just inexcusable.

Wolves allow the second most transition points in the NBA, right behind the Sacramento Kings. And yet somehow, the Wolves are the 13th best defensive team in the NBA. If they could focus less on complaining about calls when they turn the ball over or miss a shot and just get back on the other end, this could be a playoff team with a top 10 defense.

The Wolves are still exceeding expectations this season and have been fun overall. But losses like this just don’t sit well with those hoping they can take the next step.

I just can’t believe the one time the Wolves should have gone for a 3-pointer, they attacked the basket. That is not a fun way to lose a basketball game.

Martell, it’s not your fault.

Zach Harper

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28 responses to Nuggets 103, Wolves 101: Work smarter not harder

  1. If you look at the standings this team should make the playoffs. They could even make it to the 6th seed. They play well on the road and they have a ton road games coming up. The teams right a head of them are not better and some are riddled with injury’s. Teams like the Wolves are supposed to get better as the season goes on. They just can’t give games away like they did last night. A win on Wednesday goinig into the Allstar break should help. Beating the Clippers again or even take one from L.A. and staying at 500 or better will give them good confidence. But if they slip and don’t progress then it’s 500 record and just on the out side off the playoffs. Which after the last 5 years is still pretty good. I’m happy just to be frustrated after a loss like this one because it means I have a team to care about. One expect to win.

  2. Great article Zach and perfect use of the Good Will Hunting clip. I think the most frustrating thing about our low 3 pt percentage is that 9/10 of them are WIDE open. I know Webster is coming off of serious back issues, but he has had quite a few games like this now and as much as it pains me to say it…I think it is time to give Ellington some run again(if Webster is at 2). If both guys have similar production I’d prefer the guy with the high basketball IQ. Webster just has so many stretches where he seems completely out of control in everything he is doing.
    As far as Beasley goes I think I have been as frustrated as anybody with him at times, but I actually think the last few games he has shown a lot more effort on both ends and is rebounding the ball really well. If we had a better option I’d be all for it, but he has been the only player consistent from beyond the arc and scoring off the bench. He probably will never mature, but I think after he started seeing his minutes dwindle he picked up the intensity and has played better (although he has a couple throw your remote across the living room moments each game still).
    One thing that really bothers me about this team is during intense games or games where the Wolves are losing I consistently see Wes and Dwill laughing on the bench. For me if I’m a competitor I’m upset if my team is getting embarassed. I’ll give Dwill the benefit of the doubt for being a rook, but Wes…ugh.

  3. Eric, I love your last thought there (well, all of them really). Last year, I would have been numb to a loss like this. I think it’s so frustrating this year because we know the team is better than that and it’s an awesome feeling to know that. Wolves are more than good enough to take that game on the road. It’s fun but it comes with immense frustration when it doesn’t happen.

    Brandon, thanks for the kind words. I think Martell has earned some time with his defense and the ironing he has to do on offense is just something to deal with. As far as Beasley, he seems to get that he has to put out great effort everywhere to stay on the court. For the most part, he’s doing that. I’m hoping to have something on the wing players later today or tomorrow for sure.

    Jim, Denver is a TEAM! They win as a TEAM and have the TEAMIEST TEAM THAT EVER TEAMED!

  4. every Denver Nuggets play involves every player touching the ball at least three times, including bench players. then they draw straws to see who takes the shot while everyone else on the team jumps in the air, fist-pumps, kicks their feet back, and yells “YEAH!!!”

    then they all go out for hot fudge sundies.

  5. Wes and Brewer were laughing during losses last year. I was hoping it was Brewer that had a bad influence on Wes and it would go away after Brewer was traded. Do we need to trade Wes now as well?

    Hmm. Lakers like Beasley but what would we get back? I hope we can get more than cash or a pick. Maybe this :-P http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=6pgkfll
    Ok, it won’t happen. Just a though.

    Let’s all pray for #Pektacular to not be seriously injured!

  6. Watching Luke miss the tying layup, which was pretty much a wide open layup, was PAINFUL. This was a really frustrating game to watch, particularly b/c it seemed like the Wolves were constantly being outhustled by Denver. The refs really let the Nuggets play extremely physical defense, so it was tough without Pek, who seems to be the only Wolves player that doesn’t get rattled by the physicality (well, maybe Barea as well).

  7. Zach Harper: MARTELL WEBSTER, YOU HAVE TO SHOOT THE 3!

    Zach Harper: WOLVES, YOU HAVE TO STOP SHOOTING 3s!

    Yes, that’s just a (very) little funny. I’m a fan, Zach, and you make the key point about the transition defense, which was terrible last night, but wow are you wrong about 3 pointers. Good NBA offense is layups, free throws, and 3 pointers. I bow to no one in my belief that they need better wing players, but Martell Webster is a career 37% 3 point shooter. Wes Johnson (arguably the worst starting player in the NBA) shot over 35% last year. They are shooting 27% and 21% from 3 respectively this year. Do you really think that’s an accurate reflection of their current ability? It seems more likely to me that it’s just variance.

    Look, the last 2 nights they have played 2 close, rather ugly games against pretty good teams. They split them. That’s what happens when you are more or less average. They need better players if they want to be better. But given the roster as it stands, shooting fewer 3 pointers is not going to help.

  8. Eric, you’re basing Wes’ ability off an extremely small sample size, just like I’m basing his lack of shooting ability off of a small sample size. It’s pretty obvious that he’s been at his most effective this year when he’s attacking the basket. So to say his 3-point shots are good shots to take seems incorrect.

    Finding better shots to take as a team seems like a problem so far. Their offensive rank in the league has improved but their actual offensive rating has gone down (much like the rest of the league). It could be because they’re wasting possessions by floating on the perimeter. Wes is better when attacking the basket. Derrick Williams is better at attacking the basket. Kevin Love is better when attacking the basket. 47 attempts by Beasley doesn’t seem like enough to convince anybody that his career trend has been bucked.

    I don’t think I’m off base here. Also, when you’re down 3 with no timeouts and your team has told you to take a 3, you should take a 3.

  9. Well, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Wes Johnson is a good shooter; clearly he is not. My point was twofold: open 3s are good shots in the NBA, and the Wolves’ poor 3 point shooting is more likely to be a matter of statistical variance in significant part than it is to be wholly an accurate reflection of shooting ability.

    I won’t reduce this to a referendum on Wes Johnson, but to say he’s been more effective attacking the rim…well, that might be true in the narrowest sense possible, but really doesn’t tell us much. He is, incredibly, getting to the line at an even lower rate than he did last year. He isn’t a useful player in really any area.

    As a team wide matter, one of the reasons they are better is because they are getting to the line. They are 3rd in the league in FTA, which is a huge, huge thing and a monster turnaround for this team. Free throw deficit has been a problem for as long as I can remember. That suggests to me that they are going inside and attacking the basket. Perhaps there is more to be wrung out of that, but being 12th in 3FGA a game seems like a pretty good place to be.

  10. I think if you really look at that game and you break down the second quarter stretch when our bench was out there, you have to look at barea’s shot selection and scratch your head a bit because he’s forcing up three after three after three. There was about a 6 minute stretch where he was throwing them up and not passing. Although we don’t have great options on our bench squad on a possession by possession basis we really need to mix that up because it was bad basketball and honestly the most painful quarter i’ve seen us play all season.

  11. I was reading on ESPN that L.A. wants Beasley? Personaly I think the Wolves are suited better to seeing what teams offer him this summer and if it’s not outrageous they get to match and keep him. A pick and or money seems like a waste for guy coming off the bench and getting you 17-20 on his own. I really would like to see what a training camp with Adleman and a summer reflecting on how he could help this team do for Beasley. He has played better but with out fire in his belly. But something struck me as odd during a late time out last night after it seemed like the wolves were tettering towards a loss. Beasley and Rubio were hugging like team mates. A long one that seemed to convey that they were together in this fight. Perhaps it’s his team mates that can help Beasley grow up and be the 3 gaurd we need. We can always trade him next year for a pick and some money. What do you think Zach? Trade him for not much or give him one more shot?

  12. Beasley is a free agent. No way in hell do I want us to resign (and likely overpay) just to trade him later. Another training camp won’t help his cause. Trade him now to get anything for him or he’s gone as a free agent. No way I want him back unless it’s a minimum deal… But he’d never accept that anyways.

  13. eric – i agree we shouldn’t trade beas to LA for their 1st rounder or cash but I’m not against trading him for someone else’s 1st rounder. maybe orlando sees that LA wants him and they’ll trade us reddick(who in my opinion is a competent SG) just to have another piece to get more out of trading LA howard. i think that coming off the bench has lit a fire underneath him and putting him back in the starting spot would very likely put it out.

  14. Orlando wouldnt do that, although I’d live Reddick. We so desperately need a SG.

    What teams would give us a first rounder for him? No one competent that’s for sure. We’d have to jump at that though.

  15. Can anyone recall whhhhy we so poorly decided to take Jonny Flynn and not Stephen Curry. A shooter is a shooter. If it wasn’t for that zillion-overtime Syracuse-Uconn game would anyone have cared about Jonny Flynn? Probably not… This still urks me.

  16. Why not sell high on Pec now and see if Orlando is interested in him and Beasley? I like Pec but Ill take Howard anyday with his defensive presence. Pec/Beas/webster for Howard/Reddick

  17. That was a stomach punch of a loss to a team, that, let’s face facts… was not good. Denver had their 4 best players out. (Nene, Lawson, Gallinari and Wilson Chandler were all out for the game or out most of the game or in China). Yeah, I included Wilson Chandler. Brewer started for them and played a lot of minutes and Cory Brewer played like Brewer does… in a goofy and awkward manner. Thank you Cory for being you.

    At the end of the game, they had Al Harrington on offense and that was it. Aaron Afflalo is not a great scoring shooting guard; he is a great defender. Wolves: you can not defend a team that only has Al Harrington as their offensive weapon? If you can’t, then foul the guy. Harrington was 0 for 5 at the free throw line. Then, please run an offense and score a few baskets and secure the victory.

    As has been said already, this team can not hit a 3 point shot to save their lives. Martell had so many wide open corner 3 pointers and shot 16% from there. These are not contested shots. These are wide open shots that NBA players who shoot baskets all day in a gym dedicated to playing basketball… they should make.

    Here is the Wolves situation… they have guys on the bench with potential or they are really not playing them any minutes(A Randolph, Darko, Ellington, Beasley, etc.) Trade some of these players away and get someone who has the ability to hit 42 or 43 wide open 3 point shots per 100 attempted.

    Talk of Beasley to Lakers: for who? Who would they get that would help them? Lakers won’t give up any of their own big 3 (Kobe, Bynum or Gasol). So, who would be a good player in return?

    Also, the Wolves don’t need more draft picks next year. They have enough young players. They need some vet complements to their extremely young roster.

  18. Chalk up another lingering, painful loss. Once Pekovic mysteriously disappeared, I literally hit my computer, thinking that Adelman was trying some experimental bull$#i7. I would find out late in the 4th quarter via the live feed on ESPN’s NBA site that he had sprained his ankle.

    In a way this is GREAT timing, for the all-star break is imminent. In the game itself, I literally felt like we had no chance with Pek out. That’s how much he means to the team. I’m proud of the team for almost winning it, but they really should have won it. Al Harrington was doing the same, god-awful annoying spin-drive to the basket and having it work every time.

    I play basketball most every day, and I can say that it’s NOT HARD TO STAND IN FRONT OF PEOPLE. Especially people who aren’t particularly gifted with catlike agility and reflexes. Al Harrington is at best, mediocre in that area for a man his size. The Wolves were either too tired to defend, or they didn’t have anyone that could defend him. I’m leaning towards, “too tired” because they played last night and were hocking up long balls at a low percentage just as Denver was (they were also on a back to back). I’ve found these everyone-is-obviously-fatigued games to trend towards either defensive slopfests or offensive slopfests (or both). Take the game Denver was in the night before against OKC. Everyone was blathering about the magnificence of Durant and Westbrook, and about Ibaka’s triple double, but all I saw was god-awful defense.

    And there were more than a few moments of godawful defense in this game. Then overtime came, and no one scored for the first 2 minutes, and I almost stopped watching right there because this was the ugliest game I’d seen yet from our beloved Wolves. Appropriately enough, Kevin Love was incredulous to the point of foaming at the mouth (literally) after every non-foul call late in the game. When he gets tired, his already mediocre agility becomes Patrick-Ewing-with-Knee-Tape slow, and all he can do is act like he’s getting hacked to death on every drive.

    Sigh. Please come back Pek. We need you.

  19. Beasley, Pek, and Webster for Dwight freaking Howard?!?!?

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaaha!!!!!!!!

  20. Fun fact: the phrase “screw the pooch” is exactly as vulgar as it sounds.

  21. Pek is putting up Howard-like numbers except he’s also hitting about 80% of his throws. There’s no way I want Dwight on this team.

  22. Also, even though we lost we are now tied for 4th in the division… if we beat Utah tomorrow we’ll have sole possession. This would be huge going into the break.

  23. That game last night was extremely frustrating on many different levels. For once, the Wolves finally started a game strong by not going down early only to give up their big lead and end up trailing at the half. I’m not sure about others but I am still amazed that Ridnour is not only playing as much as he is, but starting at that. It was mentioned in a prior post that Johnson should not be starting (which I agree with) but I have a bigger issue with Ridnour still starting…it’s like the Marko Jaric situation all over again. The guy would barely even see the court for any other team in the league but yet he’s starting for the Wolves. I wanted to throw up when I watched Ridnour miss that lay-up with 17 seconds left in OT, but there were other issues I had before that…specifically when he was dribbling between his legs for no reason and the ball rolls out of bounds. Furthermore, I guess I didn’t understand why D Will was pulled for Ridnour when I thought that Williams was doing a good job defending Harrington down the stretch. If Adelman wanted to put another guard in, why not go with Barea or Ellington?? There have been a couple games this year where Ridnour had decent shooting nights but I guess I find it funny that every time I watch a game, I hear the commentators say “This isn’t a good matchup for Ridnour defensively” but yet he’s always out there.

  24. What are you laughing at Wolf? Pec is good, dont get me wrong. But he has issues staying healthy and if anyone thinks Pec is just as good at defense as Howard, youre nuts. Pec doesnt lead the league in rebounds. Pec doesnt give you 3 blocks a game. Pec cant shoot oustide of a layup. Yeah we lose an edge freethrow wise, but he makes up for it. Howard can completely dominate both ends of the floor. Pec is just big and has great footwork on offense. Anyone his size and playing 30 mins a game should get at least 10 rebs a game. Howard and Love rebounding would be insane. Not to mention would love to see Rubio throwing up alley opps to Howard underneath.

  25. Wow dude, wow. I was laughing at how retarded that offer was. Orlando would never do it in a billion years.

  26. Retarded was the child your Momma had dude. So Brooks Lopez is a better offer? Hahahahahahaha! Thats what the supposed trade is. Lopez for Howard. Id take pec over Lopez in a heartbeat. Beasley can score and is young and still able to get it together. It would be an intriguing offer to Orlando. Maybe the Wolves would have to throw in a first round conditional pick as well but to laugh just makes you look…….Well retarded!

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