After the loss to the Warriors the other night, a few of the players talked about having pride, learning how to win and leaving a good taste in their mouth at the end of this season that can carry over into next year.
There is a certain element of pride in still playing hard even when you really don’t have anything to play for. When facing a team like the Hornets, New Orleans has a goal to attain by beating the Wolves. The more the Wolves’ lose, the better their odds of getting a high lottery pick are. Sure, they could continue losing to make sure their own pick finishes with a higher likelihood of winning the number one selection, but it’s hard to convince players that losing is the best policy for the franchise moving forward.
The Wolves have been embarrassingly bad over the past month. Yes, they’ve been injured and injuries are certainly a concern. They’ve lost their two best point guards and are relying on a scoring point guard and a rookie with fewer than 130 minutes of playing time to pull them through these losses. Their bruising, powerful center has been hobbled and the best wing scorer on the team (in terms of talent) has been out. The problem with blaming the play on injuries is it doesn’t recognize that other teams have gone through injuries and it doesn’t bring any accountability to the players still playing.
Kevin Love is the team’s best player (breaking news, I know). Kevin Love was salty over not getting a five-year max contract. He wants to be considered among the league’s best players and people (myself included) want him to be considered for MVP because of his phenomenal statistics and the improvements he’s made to elevate his team. Here’s the problem with this:
Love has been bad lately.
Yes, he’s still getting gorgeous statistics and it makes his efforts on the surface look a lot prettier. But where is the improved defense he was sporting for the first 40 games? Was that an aberration? Is that gone for good? Is he now going to get torched by power forwards that are a lot worse than he is?
We’re at five straight games in which a big man has gone off against Minnesota. Kevin Garnett had 24 points on 12/18 shooting. LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points on 10/17 shooting. DeMarcus Cousins had 20 points on 7/12 shooting while the Wolves got basket after basket at the rim. David lee had 31 points on 13/25 shooting and Jason Smith just finished with 26 points on 12/16 from the field last night.
To put it in perspective, before last night Jason Smith had only scored more than 17 points once in his 239 games. It was against the Washington Wizards last year when Andray Blatche was putting on a historic display of terrible defense. He had 20 points on 9/11 shooting, with Chris Paul feeding him left and right for baskets.
Last night, Jason Smith took down Kevin Love and the rest of the Wolves’ bigs. JASON FREAKING SMITH. This isn’t a good basketball player. This isn’t a guy that is capable of getting hot and taking down a team at will. This is a big man that has struggled to get into a rotation unless he’s played for a really bad Hornets team.
And there was no resistance or fight from the Wolves that stood out. They were watching rebounds as they got dominated 48-33 on the boards. They were giving up easy buckets, uncontested looks and letting the combination of Chris Kaman and Jason Smith make up for the absence of Jarrett Jack and the back spasms of Eric Gordon.
Kevin Love seems to be the leader of this team and right now that doesn’t appear to be worth much. He had 29 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. Pretty good numbers when you take into account that he was an efficient 11/23 from the field. It gives beer goggles to the look of the final effort. You’d want to take those numbers home with you at the end of the night. Unfortunately, when you wake up the next day you realize what a horrible mistake you made in thinking this was a good score for you.
I saw two players consistently giving effort and showing some pride last night – Nikola Pekovic and Michael Beasley.
Pek still seems limited by conditioning issues. He chugged up and down the floor and threw his weight around the best that he could. But he just couldn’t keep up with the flow of the game for the most part.
Beasley stepped up in his return off the bench in the role of scorer. He poured in eight quick points off of the bench in the second quarter and he dropped 10 in the fourth quarter. Of his 11 shot attempts, only three of them looked like questionable decisions. He attacked when he had mismatches and seemed to actually care about the outcome.
Other players just did enough to make it look decent in the box score. I don’t know if they’re happy with their numbers and okay with losing to the worst team in the Western Conference at a time when you should be trying to end the season on a positive note. Tanking doesn’t help this team at all. It helps their opponents.
I don’t know about them and maybe I’m not speaking for you the fans, but I have a horrible taste left in my mouth from the recent effort. It would be nice to see the majority of players showing some pride and backing up their talk in the locker room.