Timberwolves 89, Magic 102: Codetalking

Benjamin Polk —  February 13, 2012 — 13 Comments

I was never, to put it mildly, a natural when it came to math. I vividly remember taking the SAT during my junior year of high school. The verbal sections were fine; I was comfortable; I knew my way around. But the math sections got ugly. I would begin to sweat; my mind would fill with expanding thickets of mostly useless information; the numbers would seem to float off the page. I knew that the problems were mostly tests of insight; and so I also knew that every mark I added to the paper, every tangential path my mind wandered, were taking me farther away from that nexus of intuition and efficiency that was crucial for good performance.

Defending the Orlando Magic is a little bit like that. When their offense is really humming–when the ball is moving inside-out and side-to-side, when they time their screens precisely–it presents the defense with a series of ever more hopeless decisions, each one leading them closer to a doorstep dunk or a wide open three. And then, of course, there is the Superman himself. I will ask you, just once, to recall how disheartening it was to watch Al Jefferson or Mad Dog Madsen or, like, Ryan Hollins try to guard Dwight Howard and consider how his frighteningly athletic presence down low can disfigure a defense and inflict crippling foul trouble. But for a number of reasons–foul trouble of his own, being forced to defend the perimeter, one meaty hunk of Montenegran man–the Wolves were able to limit Howard’s effectiveness on Monday.

In Orlando’s Rashard Lewis/less-grizzled-and bored-Turkoglu heyday, games between the Wolves and Magic were essentially a series of nearly insoluble matchup nightmares. And although the mismatches are less glaring than they once were, the Wolves are still, in term of personnel, notably unsuited to defending Stan van Gundy’s offense. For instance: many of Orlando’s shots are generated by the relentless movement of their wing players, Jason Richardson and J.J. Redick, without the ball.  Are Wesley Johnson and Martell Webster (both being natural threes) any good at chasing perimeter players through mazes of off-the-ball screens? They are not. Ryan Anderson, the Magic’s starting power-forward is a master of the pick-and-pop and the weakside spot-up and has made more threes this year than anyone else in the league. Are Michael Beasley and Kevin Love skilled at recovering to challenge perimeter shooters? No again.

But the problem is holistic. The Wolves’ defense has improved this season in almost every way, but defending the Magic requires a veteran team, a team able to make intuitive decisions in quick succession, to anticipate the opponents offensive actions and hedge against them. The entire defense, from the ball defenders to the weakside rotaters, need to be thinking with one mind.  Needless to say, the Wolves aren’t there yet.

The Wolves could have helped their cause by doing things like hitting their shots and taking care of the ball. But they didn’t do those things. The Wolves’ point guards, Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea, turned the ball over 12 times between them. The team hit just six of their 21 threes and 45.7% of their twos, many of them spoonfed by the attacking Rubio. These things carry the obvious consequence of making it much harder to score points but they also make defending a team like the Magic even more complex. If you thought those rotations and recoveries were tough when your defense was set, try doing it while racing back in transition, scrambling to find somebody to guard. As in every game, there were nuances aplenty, decisive shifts in momentum, opportunities seized and opportunities missed. But: when you don’t hit your own threes and you can’t stop your opponent from hitting theirs, the math gets pretty simple.

Benjamin Polk

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13 responses to Timberwolves 89, Magic 102: Codetalking

  1. After the Knicks loss, I literally threw everything basketball related – my shoes, gym bag, water bottle, ball, rubio-t-shirt, into some crevasse in my closet. Also, I took all the basketball-related bookmarks (including the link to this blog) off of my browser’s top bar, and threw them into a folder-within-a-folder. I quite simply wanted to not think about basketball, and especially the T-wolves. It was a watershed moment of sorts.

    There is a ton of backstory to this that I am leaving out. That must be funneled elsewhere – into my music, my art, and my writing (I decided to start a blog of my own, which will surely be interesting given the freakish melodrama of my life). That will soon be visible to the world, for better or worse. But this is about the Timberwolves, the Knicks game, and now this Magic loss.

    I commented a while ago on the importance of the three pointers made for the Wolves, then in the middle of the night calculated their percentage in wins versus in losses. Unlike the fine writer above, I did okay on the math side of things :) I found a 10% differential, such that the average in wins was around 30%, and in losses about 20%.

    Since I didn’t have NBA TV, I didn’t watch the game. I went straight to the box score after I saw that they lost by 13, a HUGE margin for this Wolves team. The magic shot at a very good percentage from 3. They made 12-30 (40%), while we made a fairly tame 6-21 (29%). I thought to myself, that’s the game right there. I took one glance at Dwight Howard’s numbers and settled on it.

    I had a strong feeling they would come out of that painful, excruciating, horrible, soul-destroying fourth quarter in the Knicks game with a sense of real anger and purpose, and dominate the Magic, a team that had set some recent records for offensive futility. And now, I see, they have mysteriously revived themselves.

    Two questions presented themselves at the same time: A) is this team really as good as I thought it was? and B) is it just me or is this season causing freakish upswings and downswings for some teams? I hope those will be answered. I would rather the Wolves lose themselves out of contention than hover just below .500 for the entire season. I know they have the talent to be more than formidable, but my patience is reaching its limit.

    After all this is a team that beat the Spurs, Mavericks, and Rockets twice apiece, and beat the Clips on a buzzer beater in L.A. on ESPN; a team that went from worst in the league to relevant thanks to a veteran coach and a Spanish sensation; a team that restored my faith in being a sports fan AT ALL. It is so fitting that they face the league’s worst team (or so say 99.9% of polls…) on Wednesday. Will they dominate? Will they scrape by? Will they lose?

    The outcome weighs heavily on the team. I have to think they just need more experience, and that in a month, all this won’t have mattered, and they will be winning all these games. That would be nice.

  2. This one I missed, but after looking at boxscore, and Pekman vs Howard numbers, I am sure gonna find this game somewhere on the net, and went through it carefully. Being able to cope with the most dominant center of the NBA today makes me really happy and I expect Pekman’s number to rise (although all of us who watched NBA in ’90s are well aware that this Howard wouldn’t be in Top 5 centers of that age, still today he represents the beast No 1).

    @Andrew don’t get me wrong, but this team is playing the best possible really, and yet it is not expectable of them to make playoffs, although we all would love that. Victories against Mavs, well Dirk’s struggles helped a lot, and LA buzzer beater came after once-in-a-history performance from Milicic,don’t forget that. What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t judge team’s possibilities by those games. West is awfully strong: defending champs, revamped spurs, greatly balanced nuggets and blazers (I just LOVE their team spirit and effort), one of the mayor title contenders – okc, lakers with unbelievably both great and selfish kobe but the best PF-C combo in the league which tips in his misses, clippers-with billaps side by side with okc, without him still better than t-wolves. So my opinion isthat these 7 will for sure make playoffs and definitely deserve so. That 8th spot is reachable for the t-wolves, but still not realistic. Utah is playing above all expectations, but will fade eventually, the same goes for Grizzlies, but Rockets…they’re like 4.5 games up from t-wolves, and I’m not sure that this team is capable of leveling the situation, although rockets for sure aren’t the better team.

    Anyway, these are only my thoughts. Cheering for the wolves to make the playoffs, andfor our man Pek to make some serious damage once in there.

    Greetings from Montenegro.

  3. The Wolves get on a losing skid and everyone is jumping ship. Wow. What do you expect from a team that was as bad as any team I can remember last year? You didnt expect the team to hit a few slumps? They are a streaky team and I feel they will compensate these losses with a few winning streaks as well. I think a few tweaks in the starting lineup needs to be addressed. Still cant figure out the Wes Johnson situation and why he is starting let alone even playing right now. At least Beasley can score. The Wolves look tired, but I think they will turn things around.

  4. This is a 500 team at best. When the Wolves go against Teams like Orlando, lakers, Maviericks, Miami, OKC, Bulls…etc. they are seeing what they need to become. These teams will their way to victory. They have a team indenity. Players know their rolls and when and where they can take chances. It doesn’t mean that the Wolves can’t beat these teams it just takes more of a concentrated effort. The last few cames you can see where the Wolves are not doing that. They have lapses of selfish play at the worst times that allow better teams to push their leads or get back into games and take them over for wins. Frustration is evident on their faces. Hopefully they pull out of their funk. Hit some open shots and go on a winning streak.

    The future still looks bright. People are mad or upset at a 4 game losing streak from a team that never had a full pre-season and can’t practice because they have games every couple of days. I’ll be happy with 30 wins. Because I know next year they for sure will be looking at the playoff’s for years to come.

  5. I only made it through the first 1.5 quarters before I had to leave for other business. I thought we did well to only be 3 points behind at the end of first. Rubio had some sweet moves, pek removed d12 to the bench. But still, Love couldn’t keep up Ryan Anderson and Redick got a lot of space as well. Then enter Darko. Did it take him more than one minute to get 2 fouls? And the second he pummeled a jump shooter just inside the 3 point line? He just confirmed how nice it’s been without him for a while. Someone needs to tell him to sit out the rest of his contract.

    I’ve watched the wolves for many years now and this year the games are close and usually exciting all the way to the end. Not like the last few years when we used to empty the bench already in 3rd quarter. I’m very happy with the wolves this year and have been able to trash talk my mavs, rockets and spurs friends.

    Not surprised to see people jump off the wagon. These are the ones that got on AFTER the first few games of the season where wolves almost got some huge wins against good teams and Rubio showed that he was legit. I’m not going to miss you guys and neither are the rest of the real fans. We’re not throwing a fit after one tough loss. We stand by our team and cheer them on whatever the result is.

  6. I think I’m ready to see Beasley start at SG.

  7. It has been frustrating during the losing streak, but nothing was more frustrating than the Knicks game. The Wolves were clearly the better team, but sloppy play, mostly by JJ Barea, prevented the Wolves from breaking open that game when they could have. As evident from that game, defense is definitely a problem for this team – they simply don’t rotate. And I agree, they do look tired – but isn’t this a young team? Adelman seems to have shortened his bench a bit and I’m not entirely sure why – Tolliver, who seemed like a decent defender/high energy guy almost never sees the floor anymore. Instead, we get the 3 guard lineup a lot, which doesn’t seem to work at all when Barea and Ridnour just can’t hit shots. Ultimately, I think I’m OK with this team not winning all the time, but I at least would like to see energy and effort, which seems to be lacking lately.

  8. A lot of great points are being made about this team in the above posts… I am really glad to see that type of excitement and interest. To the people that have already ended their season and banished them to a 25 win season, that is a bit ridiculous don’t you think? They, at times, just find ways to lose games. They are young and they just don’t take care of the basketball like you need to.

    The Wolves always seem to have 5-6 more turnovers than their opponent per game. They also get no production from their 2 and 3 position. The SG and SF are typically a team’s big scorers and they are seemingly the easiest personnnel to find in the league. But, the Wolves have the worst combos in the league. Wes Johnson is the least productive starter in the league at the 3 spot. I don’t know how anyone can justify him playing right now.

    Ridnour is a nice back up point guard but I dont think he should be in a starting NBA shooting guard role. They are getting great production from the PG (Rubio is doing what a PG should do), PF(Love has been amazing) and Center (Pekovic has been playing like a top 10 Center as of late)… if they can start getting some consistent production from the shooting guard and small forward, they can vye for a playoff spot. As others have said, is it not time to start giving consistent playing time to others to see what they can do? Insert Beasley in as the starter at the SF and run Webster as your starting SG for a few games to see if they can produce while given some consistent starter minutes.

    Also, did Anthony Randolph make disparaging comments about some of the coach’s moms? I don’t understand why he never gets any minutes.

  9. I think that I will continue to expect this team to lose every game they play from now on as long as Wes Johnson is still in the lineup. Kahn HAS to be forcing Rick to continue to give him minutes. Everyone watching the NBA would tell you that Wes is garbage and has not improved a lick since he came into this league. I cannot understand it and will never understand why Wes gets any minutes at all. The kid is a bust. Deal with it. Stop trying to cover your ass, David. Your draft picks with the exception of Rubio and Pek have been horrid and I sincerely hope that someone will can your ass ASAP before you force the only decent players we have out of town. No I don’t expect the Wolves to win 75% of their games this year and roll into the playoffs. What I do expect is that the shotcallers for this organization do EVERYTHING in their power to ensure that we win games. They apparently do not want to win as soon as the rest of our hopeless fanbase does. That’s sad. I knew it was a while since we had a winning record but I didn’t realize is was 7 years ago. That is simply inexcusable. I don’t know if management thinks that they run the GB Packers or Pitt Steelers but trying to build a team ONLY through the draft simply isn’t working. Can’t remember the last time a decent FA was signed(no JJ does not count) or a trade was made for a starter. Isn’t there a saying about “potential?” Apparently David Kahn would rather lose his job trying to draft a successful team than keep his job and make the moves to acquire a successful team. 7 years we have been waiting and it looks like we’ll be waiting a few more. Awesome. Can’t wait!!!

  10. Loving the spirited discussion, y’all.

  11. I like the responses to the article and my initial post. All good points. I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking that Knicks loss was the most painful of the season by far.

    Believe me, I’m not losing faith in this team if they, say, lose to the Bobcats tomorrow. I’ve been a fan since they made the playoffs with Stephon and KG against the Sonics (when it was best of 5). I also have Minnesotan roots. I just really, really want them to win, make the playoffs, and garner respect from the rest of the league.

    I may stop watching, though, if they revert to what I saw in the 4th quarter of the Knicks game ;) My faith is like a boulder atop a mountain – strong, but wobbly.

  12. I must admit that for the last few years, I have not been interested in watching the Wolves play at all. I would check the scores from time to time, but since KG went to Boston, I have been waiting for something TO watch. No offense to Mr. Love, but until Rubio came here, I did not think that there was anyone FUN to watch play. In fact, with my limited viewing time, I held the opinion that Love was overrated. I figured that he got so many points because he was one of the few scoring options on the team and that he got so many rebounds because he had so many opportunities.

    Now, with Rubio in, I have watched nearly all of the Wolves games this year (even going to the bar to watch those inexplicable ones not on local TV) and I have some observations:

    1) Love is not overrated but he needs to fix two things. In losing weight, getting better inlet passing from Rubio, and more development of his inside/outside game, he is quickly growing on me. I still think that he is a little soft with his on the ball defense, and will often run into trouble with inside/outside types like Nowitzki, but overall I think that he a tenacious presence for us and I like his grit. Now we gotta hope that the Scola-stomp does not damage his rep even further with the Refs and make it impossible for him to get calls. Despite being near the top in free throws attempted (an UNDERRATED part of his game) I believe that he gets jobbed by the refs a lot. Some of this is because they are just “letting them play” and part of it is his nearly incessant complaining to the Refs. Superstars can do that and sway them…I feel it makes him look like a cry-baby to the refs and it is infectious. The other players are starting to do it too. YES, the refs have been robbing the boys a lot…but it does us no good if we are so busy complaining that we are giving away FREE baskets at the other end. Love needs to lead by example on this, especially after the Scola incident, and take a page out of the Michael Jordan handbook at dealing with the Refs. Wait until the next time there is a dead ball or timeout, saunter over and POLITELY remind the ref of the play…and walk away. Now complaining…no whining…mature. They will remember that YOU remember and acted with class. Too many of the players now days act like unprofessionally to the refs, hence why they made the “waving off the ref” technical. Act with classs, and you will more often get the benefit of the doubt. The other players will see that…and follow your example. Just a side note…when the calls get REALLY bad, we need SOMEONE to be the bad guy….to take the leadership, and that person is the Adelman. He needs to just blow his shit just once, take the technical and be that guy…ONCE.

    2) Wesley Johnson is being DAMAGED. Stop putting him in the starting lineup! As much as a service to him as to the team! Good lord the kid cannot hit a jump shot to save his life and for every block or steal he gets there is a bonehead pass or matador defensive play. My suggestion is to bring him off the bench like we currently are with Beasley and shake up the 2/3 position a bit. Honestly, how can it get any WORSE? I would like to think that moving Beasley into that spot and keeping Martell in the #2 is a good start. Wesley needs to see some time against 2nd stringers, not getting lit up the first 10 minutes of every game by the West’s best small forwards. It is like the Darko/Pek situation…they felt like they HAD to start Darko, despite ALL the evidence that Pek was going to be superior in just about every way EXCEPT blocks.

    3) All the turnovers lately are indirectly Rubio’s fault. We have not seen a playmaker even close to his ability in a Wolves uniform. FEW of the players on our team have either. With the beauty and excitement that his passes and court vision have created, it has also created a few monsters on this very young, impressionable team. Rubio is going to throw away the ball once in awhile. He may even have a few moments like at the end of the Knicks game…but he is still, for all his international experience, a rookie and 20 years old. However, when I see players like Wes, Ridnour and Barea throwing ill advised cross-court passes, or behind the back no-look passes…or even threading outlet passes when just bringing it up will do fine, I know that players are trying to emulate him…especially when they rarely did it last year. Adelman needs to get down on those guys and tell them to stop trying so hard to be part of the “Ricky-reel”.

    All this being said, they are at least ENTERTAINING to watch and they keep my attention, and even make me write long winded posts….something that never would have happened at any point over the last 6 years or so.

  13. @Rob D B: REALLY GREAT POINT! Randolph has literally disappeared from the rotation the past few games. It seemed for awhile there that during any good comeback that we had, AR was in the thick of it, providing some great energy and length off the bench.

    My only true complaint of Adelman’s job so far this season has been his strange, and somewhat bewildering lineup strategies. Keep players in for too long…or not long enough. Starting Wes…not starting Rubio or Pek…not playing AR, Tolliver or Ellington for games. Maybe it is his short season plan…who knows, but I cannot understand how he is coming to his decisions.

    One final note: Could it be possible for Adelman to run full “waves” at other teams. We have some great depth, but a lot of players that play at different speeds. It seems to me that we could run two full 5 man teams right now that could wear down most other teams. I would think that we could start Rubio, Webster, Beasley, Love and Pek and then sub them ALL out for a few minutes and run a a few minutes with Barea, Ridnour, Wes, D-Williams and Randolph. Yeah they would be slightly undersized, but they could run with any other #2 team, give the starters all a good rest and then switch them all back in once our opponent is good and gassed. The great thing is that you still have Darko, Ellington and Tolliver available for situational play. Maybe it is a bad strategy, but I would like to think that it could be a great way in this compressed season to reduce the overall wear on our starters, and put some pressure on teams playing with less depth.

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