Timberwolves 95, Suns 104: We're Still Here
Of course it is ridiculously unfair that the Timberwolves were playing their third game in three nights while the Suns had been reading romance novels and drinking margaritas by the pool (probably) for the past week. But such is the absurdity of this lockout-contaminated NBA schedule. What you cannot control you must accept: good people get sick; the world rewards the ruthless and craven. Think about it like that and playing lots of basketball suddenly doesn’t seem so bad, does it?
Basketball playing humans have an extraordinary capacity to focus their mental energies and play through fatigue, and on this score the Wolves played pretty admirably. But all the grit and willpower in the world won’t make your jumper fall when your legs turn to jelly. The Wolves’ shooting is mercurial under the best of circumstances; on a night like tonight, it didn’t really seem like the ball had a prayer of going in the basket.
|Wesley Johnson, SG 28 MIN | 6-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 12 PTS | -1Although he contributed to that parade of flat third quarter jumpers, Wes did some solid work in his 28 minutes. In addition to hitting some tough shots off the dribble, he moved the ball well in traffic and played some disruptive broken-floor D. But, a caveat: his inability to stay in front of the wizened Grant Hill was an object lesson in the way that, in the NBA, craft and change-of-pace can trump youth and athleticism.|
|Kevin Love, PF 40 MIN | 8-25 FG | 6-6 FT | 10 REB | 3 AST | 23 PTS | -10Love gave it his best shot, but you could easily see the depleting effects of illness and fatigue on his game. After the first quarter, his shot was flat and short; he struggled to reach outside shooters; he couldn’t chase down the loose balls that he usually owns. Love has to be frustrated with the way his worn out body is preventing him from playing his game.|
|Nikola Pekovic, C 37 MIN | 6-12 FG | 2-2 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 14 PTS | -4Tonight’s game aptly displayed both Pek’s attributes and his shortcomings. What we like: when Pek seals his man under the basket; when Pek catches the ball in stride as he rolls to the hoop; when Pek puts back those hard-earned offensive boards. What we don’t like: when the Wolves clear out so that the Dancing Bear can post up 10 feet from the hoop, pound the ball for five seconds and then look bad in missing whatever shot he’s left with.|
|Luke Ridnour, PG 43 MIN | 5-9 FG | 5-5 FT | 2 REB | 8 AST | 15 PTS | +1Another night in matchup hell for Ridnour. Guarding Shannon Brown is not going to be easy for Luke; guarding Grant Hill is just not happening. On the other hand, Ridnour made a number of penetrating passes to set up scores and was one of the few Wolves able to hit open shots.|
|Ricky Rubio, PG 31 MIN | 3-7 FG | 7-7 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 13 PTS | -7Opponents have learned that the best strategy against our Spanish Castle Magician is to deny passing lanes and make him a scorer. Tonight, Rubio was able to hit some shots and get to the line but he continues to be frustrated by the lack of space to make the plays that seemed to come so easily earlier in the year. Another painful lesson in the education of a prodigy.|
|Martell Webster, SF 23 MIN | 3-6 FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | -12Guarding the two never has been, and probably never will be, something that Martell Webster excels at. We need to accept this. But it certainly is nice to see him hitting some shots.|
|Michael Beasley, SF 19 MIN | 1-5 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 3 PTS | -8Another strange game for Beasley. He played uncharacteristically energetic defense in his 19 minutes but–and this is completely characteristic–appeared uncomfortable playing within the flow of the half-court offense. When the Wolves are missing shots, the opponent goes on a run and the Wolves desperately need a poised, well-executed possession, you can almost count on B-Eazy to jack up a flat-footed ball-stopping jumper.|
|Derrick Williams, F 19 MIN | 2-10 FG | 2-6 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | -4Suffice it to say that Williams did not break any NBA efficiency records tonight. There have been moments in the past few games in which Williams has been finally able to gather himself at the rim and use his overwhelming athleticism to do some work. But for most of this game, he looked every part the 20-year-old rookie: tentative in his decision-making, body moving just a notch faster than he can control. Also: Williams has missed six of his past eight free throws and this hurts my stomach.|
Three Things We Saw
- Missing 17 of 19 shots at any point in a game is always going to be trouble. Even worse, though, those missed shots allowed the Suns to play in the open floor and pretty quickly you could see the fatigue set in, impairing the Wolves effort and clouding their decision-making. The Wolves began pulling on their shorts and suddenly were a step late in their rotations, unable to protect the paint or aggressively challenge shooters. Martell Webster goes under a screen when he should go over; Shannon Brown hits an easy 16-footer. Pekovic fails to challenge Dudley off the pick and roll; Dudley hits the open shot. Love blows a rotation and Markieff Morris sails to the hoop. On offense, the ball stops moving from side-to-side; the offense stagnates; players settle for arrhythmic jumpers.
- Nikola Pekovic is awfully lovable but being lovable doesn’t necessarily mean you are also an ideal pick-and-roll defender. In defending the Nash/Gortat PNR, Pekovic would sag into the paint, deterring a drive and theoretically giving Nash’s defender the opportunity to recover. For this to work, though, Pekovic would need to be quick enough to recover to the rolling Gortat once Nash dished the ball. But he was not quick enough. Nash isolated this weakness almost immediately and made Big Pek look like my dad on Rollerblades. Dunks and layups ensued.
- I don’t necessarily believe deeply in Martell Webster’s hair. Its not a haircut that I would probably ever choose for myself, is what I’m saying. Still, I saw Fishbone play live more than once as a kid and if a guy wants to steep himself in ’90’s Afro-ska-punk(/funk) by getting himself a dreaded mohawk, I say that’s his prerogative. And I certainly don’t understand the macho hell that opposing commentators are giving him. Suns’ announcer Eddie Johnson just couldn’t get over it. I tried to fast forward until Johnson’s tirade was over, but every time I hit ‘play’, there was EJ, acting like Martell’s hair had murdered his mom or turned his son gay. Its all too reminiscent of the homo-terrified, locker room wedgie nightmares that I remember being dealt out in 6th grade to any kid that didn’t wear his jeans the “right way.” Not feeling it.