I think it’s safe to say the nail in the playoff coffin has been inserted.
After the loss to Boston on Friday, the Wolves had a favorable stretch of games in which they could presumably sweep them and end up climbing above .500 and right into the Battle Royale playoff fight. After the first two games of this stretch, the Wolves have dropped both while trying to shuffle through injuries and playing atrocious defense all around. Wolves are now five games under .500 and free falling into a lottery position they don’t get.
I think to expect playoffs as an actual possibility, even if it’s mathematically possible, is just irrational hope wrapped in a warm blanket of denial. Luke Ridnour is probably gone for a long time after that ankle injury tonight. Even if it’s just three or four games (by some miracle), there are only 11 games left in this season. Pek came back tonight and gave good minutes, but they were probably able to afford his absence a lot more than Luke’s.
Maybe JJ Barea can come back on Wednesday and play some good basketball. Maybe Pekovic’s ankle will still be okay (he told Adelman after the game that only his conditioning gave him problems) and he can build on his minutes while still scoring efficiently. Maybe Malcolm Lee will grow with each outing and give the Wolves some really solid minutes at the point.
Even then the Wolves have 4.5 games to make up with just 11 to play. The math looks funny to me.
In reality, the defense has been just putrid the last three games and I don’t see any reason to believe it’s just going to magically get better. The Wolves’ are getting broken down off the dribble on the perimeter almost every play. If they’re lucky enough to hedge properly on a pick-and-roll, the team seems to be recovering slowly to shooters and cutters.
You can’t really blame them either. The compacted season teaming up with the waterfall of injuries in a dastardly way have really put the core players who aren’t too injured to sit out at a pace of exhaustion that many of us will never know. This team is battered and bruised. It’s been pummeled and run through the ringer of an inhuman schedule of play.
But the Wolves aren’t the only team to go through injuries this year and Rick Adelman certainly is never going to let them use it as an excuse for poor play. It doesn’t excuse not exploiting a mismatch with Kevin Love being guarded by Donté Greene. It doesn’t excuse letting Terrence Williams go for 12 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. It doesn’t excuse letting Jimmer go off for 19 points in 25 minutes.
The Wolves shot 48.1% from the field, 52.4% from the 3-point line and got to the charity stripe 26 times in this game. They didn’t really turn the ball over much (12) or give up points off of those turnovers (10). They scored 108 points in a 93-possession game. By all accounts, this should have been a very good game for the Wolves if you just look at the offensive numbers.
The two big problems are they allowed the Kings to make more than half of their shots and they gave up 60 points in the paint. I don’t even care about the 21 points in transition right now. 60 points in the paint is just an unacceptable effort, even if the team is injured.
It sucks wondering what this team could have been with a healthy Rubio and Pek not having such a bum ankle. I would have loved to see what this team was capable with a relatively healthy squad on their seven-game road trip. We just didn’t get that luxury and now the team is 4-10 since Rubio’s injury and falling away from the playoff race.
I want to be wrong about the playoffs not being within reach. But there are four teams to climb in a short amount of time. A win at home against the Warriors on Wednesday may be the difference between team morale being high enough to finish out the season strong and completely falling apart in the last three weeks of the season.
Now, the best we can hope for is a competitive finish to the season and for Utah to make the playoffs as the 8th seed. Go Jazz?