Timberwolves 122, Blazers 110: wings of desire

Benjamin Polk —  March 4, 2012 — 33 Comments

Timberwolves’ fans should be glad that Saturday’s game against the Blazers was not decided on the basis of a head-to-head matchup between Wes Johnson or Michael Beasley and Gerald Wallace. Wallace’s game is a study in the contrast between the immense, relentless energy he expends and the languid, loose-limbed way he physically expresses that energy. Watching him attack the basket, scramble for rebounds, streak into passing lanes–well its a really a thing of beauty.

All of which made it a little bit hard for me to watch Wes and Beaz saunter through their time on the floor. That Beasley would be slow to loose balls or would fail to match the energy of one of the league’s most inspiring wing defenders is not a terrible shock and, at this point, doesn’t seem to be worth lamenting (although there are moments…). But Wes Johnson really mystifies me at the moment. I know that he is still a novice when it comes to NBA team defense and that he currently lacks the instinct for negotiating screens and defending the myriad articulations of the pick-and-roll. Ok, fine.

But, given his startling athletic gifts and the fact that he seems to genuinely, strongly want to be a good NBA player, its hard for me to understand why he doesn’t devote a bit more zest to the task. Why does he attack screens and close out on shooters so passively? Why doesn’t he use his length and quickness to deny passing lanes more aggressively? And despite his improved shooting recently (which really is a welcome sight), things have just gotten worse. Wes has shown the ability to be a solid one-on-one defender, but over the past two games he’s been eaten alive. On three of Portland’s first five offensive possessions, Wallace blew past Johnson off the dribble and at no point did Wes seem in any particular hurry to recover.

This was especially hard to swallow on Saturday; considering the intense energy that Wallace was expending and the dreadful individual matchups that the Wolves faced (as they always do against the Blazers) it would have behooved their wings to play with a little urgency. Luke Ridnour guarding Metta W. Peace was probably (hopefully) the most absurd thing you’ll see in a Wolves game this year. But although Ridnour’s attempts to check the extraordinarily long and tall Nic Batum lacked some of the former matchup’s visceral strangeness, it was even less advantageous. Johnson is probably the only Wolf physically capable of guarding Batum, but we already know how he fared. Nik Pekovic on Marcus Camby or Joel Pryzbilla? Kevin Love on Lamarcus Aldridge. I hate it all.

So given that Wallace and Batum were shredding and that Portland presents the kind of frontcourt length that usually gives the Wolves shingles, how did they win the game so handily? We’ve discussed before how the Wolves’ inability to consistently hit outside shot has muddled their offensive spacing and flow, how it allows opponents to disrupt the Wolves’ pick-and-roll game and collapse on Love and Pekovic inside. Well, this is what it looks like when they actually hit those shots. It looks really good.

Early in the game, Ricky Rubio made a habit of finding spot-up shooters in mid-transition, before the Blazers could set themselves and disrupt his passing lanes. Unlike in previous games, the Wolves, and Wes Johnson and Martell Webster in particular, actually hit those wide-open threes. (Rubio has no doubt been struggling lately, but his recent assist numbers would look a whole lot better if the Wolves had been able to hit even a fraction of the pristine looks that he’s served up.)

And although Kevin Love is Your 2012 Three-Point Shooting Champion, the Blazers were more concerned with preventing him from rolling to the hoop and Minnesota’s guards from penetrating the paint than with challenging Love’s outside shots. Considering his recent shooting malaise, you can hardly blame them. But Love punished them for it. After more than a week of fatigue and illness and the rough shooting numbers that came with it, the Wolves were in dire need of a great game by Love. And although he is still not pursuing the ball with the furious determination that we’re used to, he certainly provided that tonight. For the first time since the last Houston game, Love looked completely comfortable in the offense, hitting rhythmic jumpers, moving easily without the ball and finishing with force at the rim.

Efficient, high-volume scoring nights from Kevin Love are wonders to behold, phenomena whose regularity would have shocked us three seasons ago. Still, its pretty stunning how much better the Wolves offense looks–how much more smoothly it flows, how much space is created inside–when Martell Webster and Wes Johnson and Derrick Williams hit their shots. It would be lovely to think that this is something we could grow to depend on.

Benjamin Polk

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33 responses to Timberwolves 122, Blazers 110: wings of desire

  1. Well spoken about Beasley…His effort on the defensive end is a sight to behold and not in a good way…Adelman benching him in the second half was a good decision…The Great Michael Beasley scoring effort seems to happen once every 3 weeks, and I’ll be happy to see him gone…Derrick Williams on the other hand has shown flashes of why he was the #2 overall pick…It seems with each passing game he is getting more comfortable at the NBA Level…Give him another year with a full summer and training camp, his potential his limitless…The dude is going to be a stud!!! I think it would be a HUGE mistake on the Wolves part if they trade him…He has limitations but if he can learn to guard 3’s consistently with a lot of offseason work, he’ll be a force

  2. Cynical Jason March 4, 2012 at 3:46 am

    Also, Pek stifled LMA all night. That was fun to see.

  3. @Cynical Jason,

    Indeed. Many people like to compare Kevin Love to LMA for some reason. I think last night put that argument to bed.

    Anyway, Wolves fans, I’ve been thinking about this. I’m also a die-hard Celtics fan (we didn’t always have a team in Minnesota, Larry Legend was cooler than the other side of the pillow and I rooted for the team that was the rival of the team that left Minnesota and went to a city where the inhabitants don’t even know what “Laker” means).

    But, I digress.

    As a Wolves/Celtics fan, I’d like to see them both get better. What do you think about this trade idea:

    The Wolves trade Beasley and Luke Ridnour, plus $2 million dollars to the Celtics for Ray Allen. It has definite advantages for both teams. The Timberwolves finally get a shooting guard. And by the way, that’s a shooting guard that will go in the Hall of Fame, is the best 3 point shooter in the league, perhaps the best pure shooter in history, AND he doesn’t particularly like Kobe Bryant, helping us get the Laker monkey off our back. We also get a upgrade on defense and much needed veteran and playoff leadership.

    The Celtics benefit because they get Beasley. Beasley has the talent to be one of the top ten best players in the league. When he’s feeling it, he’s a thing of beauty, but he’s not disciplined. I think between Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and KG (especially KG), Beasley would quickly mature into the #2 overall pick that he was. In which case, Boston gets him for a song. They also get Luke which, if they choose, frees them up to trade Rondo or gives them an extremely capable option off the bench to spell Rondo. Also, Luke would endear himself to the Boston fans with his tough play and willingness to play the 2 when asked.
    Lastly, Boston gets younger and with the money Minnesota offers, the Celtics take $2.2 million off their luxury tax.

    What do you all think?

  4. @ Tim

    you sound more like a Celtics fan than a wolves fan to me. While I admit that the wolves do need a 2 guard, I don’t think going old is the answer. Also, the wolves aren’t winning anything this year and Allen will be a free agent and i doubt he will sign back on with the Wolves so why would they give up to productive players for a chance to get the 8 seed that they may get anyway. I think the wolves should move for a younger SG, not sure who is available but I would like to see a good shooter to work well with rubio’s passing drive and kick ability and transition passing

    As for the Celts end, yeah its a good deal for them, they get a hard working guy in ridnour who would love to play for a playoff caliber team and it would let them shop rondo which could bring in more talent in the end in order to help them build that team. But also remember they have a man named Jeff Green coming back next year who plays similar positions to Beaz. Combine that with Pierce and Garnett and you have a serious clog at those 3-4 positions that could cause some problems in the future.

  5. Alex,

    Funny, Celtics fans thought I was too much of a Timberwolves homer. They wanted a draft pick too.

    I think Ray, because of his work ethic, can still play at a high level for 3 or 4 years and I think Minnesota could sign him. We’d still be under the cap and he’d provide much needed veteran experience. Do we have anyone with any playoff minutes under their belt? I’m not sure. It would be nice to have someone who thrives in that situation. Also, Ray gets to come to family-oriented Minnesota. A big positive for him.

    So no, my loyalties are first toward the Timberwolves. I believe you underestimate how much Jesus has left in the tank.

  6. Jeff Green and KG are both unrestricted free agents next year, so there’s no guarantee Boston will bring either back. With that being said, I don’t see Boston trading Ray Allen for Beas and Luke. They’ll probably try to make one more playoff push before blowing up the team. I don’t imagine anyone thinks of Beas as a foundation for the future. I think the Wolves would jump on this deal if it were even a possibility. This would push them from a team that probably narrowly misses the playoffs to a potentially scary 6-8 seed playoff team. Makes them much more attractive to free agents.

    I along w/ everyone else want to see the Wolves pick up a young 2 guard who can guard opposing 2’s, hit 3’s, and handle the ball. That’s just not so easy to come by. If they can move Beasley for both of LA’s 1st round picks and Luke Walton, I’d be more than happy. This gives the Wolves and extra pick and helps LA address the luxury tax issue. Should give them more leverage in the off-season to find a trade for an NBA caliber starting 2 (someone like Jared Dudley, Wes Matthews, Aaron Afflalo). Only problem here is they’d need to pick up Walton’s $6M salary for next year (guessing he’d be cut immediately), so essentially Taylor would be buying 2 late 1st round picks for $6M. Not sure what the going rate is..

  7. I like the Idea of a Boston/Minnesota trade, but not what you are conjuring up. So you want Minnesota to give up two younger and more athletic players for an over the hill hall of famer that will be here for half a season? HAHAHAHAHAHA! Now if you throw in a name with Allen, say Garnett? I dont know how the contract and money situation would pan out, Cuz I know the contracts have to be equal. Personally, I think the Wolves make ZERO moves this year. If Utah continues to lose, the Wolves will get there draft pick in this years NBA draft and so it would be nice to see Utah flop the rest of the season. I think you wait it out with Beasley and see if they can sign him to a 4 year contract based on incentives more than an actual salary.

  8. KG will never play in Minnesota again and adding Garnett in that trade makes it extremely lopsided and hilarious from Boston’s perspective.. And FYI Ray Allen is more athletic than Beas and Luke combined as we speak, and I would take Ray in a heartbeat for those two… I am a hardcore Twolves fan and don’t like any other team. So take my comments how you will…..

  9. Also I believe Utah’s pick is lottery protected.

  10. Shawn,

    As much as I love Kevin Garnett, why would the Timberwolves need him. We already have Kevin Love and Derrick Williams at Power Forward.

    It’s not that I hate Beasley, it’s that he will never reach his potential in Minnesota. He needs to be on a team that has a strong veteran presence that will keep him in check. The Timberwolves don’t have that. I believe that is the biggest reason he hasn’t lived up to his potential in Minnesota. He’s definitely had flashes of brilliance.

    Lastly, I think we are woefully in need of some playoff experience on our team, hence Ray Allen. Ray is also an upgrade on defense and obviously shooting.

    Ridnour and Beasley’s contracts are only $500,000 less than Ray’s and we didn’t have either of them locked up long term either so we are paying to get instantly better. That was my rational.
    I figured since we’d still be under the salary cap, especially after clearing Beasley’s salary, we could sign Ray to a short-term contract, perhaps 3 years. We have the cap space for that. I don’t know, I really like it for both teams.

  11. I don’t see how anyone could be a timberwolves fan and a celtics fan. Especially after McFail traded our good players for celtics misfits it’s impossible rooting for both those teams.

  12. Who said KG will never be in a Wolves uniform again? KG? Nope. Glen Taylor? Nope. As a matter of fact I heard Paul Allen a few weeks ago saying KG was open to returning to the Wolves once his contract is up.(Next year I believe) Where does he fit in? At 38 where does anyone fit in? A role player that can play center and PF. DWill cant play center. 15-20 mins a night is very realistic. KG has playoff experience and a ring. Brings good leadership as well as Allen. But like I stated before. I would rather NOT see them make any moves. I want to see what this roster can do through a full season. Not a half season fix with Ray Allen. Getting rid of two good, and young scorers for one old scorer just dont make sense. This team is not going to win a championship this year with or with out Ray Allen. Im a 100% Wolves fan as well.

  13. Steve – That pic is no longer protected. We get it regardless if its a lottery or not.

  14. Shawn the pick is protected, and with Utah looking at rebuilding it is likely we never get it due to the protection.

  15. @Shawn please leave immaturity outside this forum. If you have an opinion, there are better ways to express it.

    I’m a half-Minnesotan, half-Bostonian but follow the Wolves because I like underdogs (especially in an era of mostly empty-headed Heat and/or Lakers fans). I don’t know if anyone checked out ESPN’s 5-on-5 trade ideas, but I believe the only Celtics-Wolves idea involved Pierce.

    In terms of what would fill the gaping holes, Pierce fits the 6’7″ish 2/3 who is also a great passer and defender. I believe the need is greater for a 3 than a 2, but we absolutely need someone who can defend bigger SGs like Batum. And I don’t think anyone would question that Ridnour and Beasley are entirely expendable for this purpose. D-dub seems to be fitting in well with each passing day, and can sort of fudge the 3 spot when needed – but not for the whole game.

  16. @ Andrew – I dont know where you got immaturity out of my response. I dont agree with trading for Ray Allen so now I need to grow up? I am simply arguing my points. If I was immature, I would of told you where to go stick it by now. Food for thought! :)

  17. @Shawn it was your response a ways back, that involved a lot of all-caps “ha” in a row. Didn’t seem very constructive – you could simply state “that would never work because… “

  18. I just checked and saw that the Wolves are tied with Utah and New Orleans for tops in league in games played against .500 or better opponents. We’re 10-13 in that regard. It shouldn’t be understated how far this team has come since they began the season. John Hollinger (whom I at times despise for being too analytical in his approach, and especially for the ghastly thing that is PER) has an automated playoff odds page at ESPN. It gives these Wolves a 46.3% chance to make the playoffs, a 2.3% shot at the NBA finals and a 0.5% chance at winning it. Whether you give the numbers any clout is your prerogative, but I do think they are about right.

    These next three games seem about as important as any so far. I think what they absolutely need to do is win against the Lakers – Kevin Love himself implied that the team had it in mind to break the Portland losing streak going into last night’s game. All that’s left, in terms of jinx, is to break the Laker streak. I know I’ll be watching…

  19. I don’t have a problem trading Beasley to Boston for a half season of Ray Allen. I don’t think the Wolves should re-sign Beasley, and anything they get for him (a couple of pizzas!) is a bonus at this point. I do have a problem trading Luke Ridnour – he’s actually decent, and the combo of Rubio, Ridnour, and Barea seems in some combination to work out, e.g., Rubio has a tough night? Send Ridnour in, or when Barea was injured — there’s some flexibility there.

  20. Greg,
    I hate the idea of losing Luke to but in return we would gain a better shooter, and a guy with a higher basketball IQ. It does kind of force Ricky to mature a little more quickly, I will grant you that.

    Ivan,
    It’s actually pretty logical to be both a Timberwolves and a Celtics fan. Before we had the Timberwolves, I liked the Celtics because I was a Laker hater. They left Minnesota and their fans are too stupid and entitled to even know what a “Laker” is. SO…I rooted for their biggest nemesis, the Boston Celtics.

    Then when we got our T-Wolves, my loyalty changed. He who shall not be named would be shot in my household, regardless of his status as a Celtic, but if I’m anything, I’m loyal. So, my two teams are the Timberwolves and the Celtics. I always look at ways to improve them both. I thought this trade killed two birds with one stone.

  21. I would do this trade: http://games.espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=7kk8fsx.
    I would use just 3 forwards in the rotation: Gerald Wallace-Kevin Love-Derrick Williams 32 minutes all…That would be awesome…

  22. I’d love to have Gwall’s energy on our team. I’d be very surprised though if Blazers would even look at that trade. I think Wes and AntRand have about 0 trade value and Beasley’s isn’t high either.

    I also do like the idea of getting Ray Allen even for half a season. He could help a lot with these young players. Something that Beasley would never be able to do. And Luke I’m not totally thrilled with. He’s a little to inconsistent for my liking. I don’t feel I can trust him any given night.

    And, Tim, I won’t mention his name again. lol. I liked your response. I only came here in 1998 and started to watch NBA only because of KG so I never watched the Celtics before when they were good. But it was like a stab in gut when KG was traded to Celtics.

  23. That’s an interesting deal – I would be wary of moving Wes; he seems like the only true 3 that we have on the roster. Beasley would certainly fit better somewhere else, and while I love it when Luke hits big shots, he would as well.

    As long as we keep the big three plus D-dub and Barea, I’d be open to a lot of things.

    The fact that Randolph has a 17.4 PER is again evidence to me that it has way too many shortcomings as a serious statistic. But I digress – I bet they will make a deal before the deadline, and I bet it will involve Beaz at least.

  24. Andrew Jagger: your big three are Rubio, Love and Pekovic? I see…For me Derrick is even more untouchable than Pekovic.
    That trade would make Derrick have starter minutes but off the bench and also learn from Wallace. In particular he would improve his defense a lot.

    Jamal Crawford for OJ Mayo after this?
    Memphis get their sixth man with other year in his contract and we get the young SG to be the starter…
    Something else would you add?

  25. I’m not suggesting these are huge impact players, and I didn’t check every player, but we do have some playoff experience:

    Darko has 150 playoff minutes in 21 games. (’03, ’04, ’07 – Pistons).

    Beasley has 313 playoff minutes with the Heat (’09, ’10)

    J.J. Barea has 725 career playoff minutes, each of the last 5 seasons with Dallas.

    And Brad Miller tops the list with 1,326 playoff minutes with 5 teams over 8 years, starting in 2000 when Ricky Rubio was 9 years old.

  26. I completely agree with the trade about ray allen. I disagree that we would want a young two being that we don’t have any veterans on the team. With ray allen coming in he would definitely provide the much needed leadership and i dont think we would let games slip away from us as much with allen on the roster. My only concern is are we going to be able to keep him around after the season.

  27. anyone wonder why coach adelman doesn’t slide ricky to SG at defense? he’s the one with the size and length (ok, maybe not strength yet) to kinda hang with NBA SGs like kirk hinrich does at least marginally better physically than little luke ridnour, who is still expected to shoot and drive on offense. i don’t know about other people but when dog-tired, i can still pass a bit decently but my shot takes a large dip in accuracy. we know the pups need all the outside shooting consistency they can get so i’m a bit befuddled by this. i understand that the best facilitator PG in the roster should be kept away from foul trouble but i still want to see ricky try to guard bigger guys to toughen the kid up.

    well that or hit a consistent jumper to lessen the pressure on ridnour.

    @ JP, i did post in other earlier entries here at AWAW that gerald wallace (minus the concussions) is the archetype i’d like to see d-dub follow since that guy also played a lot of 4 at college and also sometimes for the bobcats so i like that mentorship possibility.

  28. @JP Yes, to me Pekovic is critical to the team right now… even when he doesn’t score much he’s a dominant presence that pressures the other team’s interior. Without him we would lose a huge advantage against the majority of NBA teams. He’s one of those people that’s “naturally” 290, meaning he didn’t have to lift many weights to get there. As long as he stays healthy he is only going to improve with more minutes. I don’t consider Ddub part of the “big three” yet because he hasn’t been consistent enough, but I think he will be soon.

  29. @JP, I think your second trade is even less likely to happen. JCraw is their starting PG right now. Luke starts because we don’t have a real SG. If we had one he wouldn’t start. Portland won’t trade 2 of their starters for 5 non-starters. Yes, I consider wes to be a non-starter as well. Blazers are good at SG/SF position. They wouldn’t have any room to play wes or ellington. Gwall >>> beasley and antony randolph is a bust.

    Look at how important GWall and JCraw are to portland right now. Sure they could slide in wes matthews to start if they didn’t have gwall and felton could start, but when felton did start he was atrocious and mattews doesn’t have gwall’s energy or physicality.

    I’m not trying to put you down. I appreciate that you are looking to improve this team. I just think you overrate the trade values of our players.

  30. I would love to welcome Ray Ray back to the team that originally drafted him. I often dream of how the Wolves would have fared had we not traded him away. I don’t know how long he will want to play, but I think he has a couple good years left in him. The Wolves absolutely need a reliable outside shooter that isn’t K-Love and Allen meets that need. I also think he would re-sign once he saw the potential of this team.

    Now would the Celtics make this kind of move? I seriously doubt it. I don’t see them adding a guy with attitude issues when that is the main reason for shopping Rondo. Bottom line is Mr. Allen to the Wolves is a pipe dream.

  31. Wouldn’t a trade with Michael Beasley for JJ Redick as center pieces make a lot of sense for both sides?

  32. @MFCard

    My guess is he doesn’t want Rubio to get into foul trouble. SG slash more, typically. Rubio’s long arms are good at defending but he doesn’t have quick enough feet to stay in front of an above average/elite shooting guard, not yet anyway.

    My opinion anyway…

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