We’ve got a big stretch of games coming up for the Wolves and it starts tonight.
Ever since Kevin Love broke his hand doing knuckle push-ups, we’ve been trying to figure out how this team survives the presumed month he’s out healing. If the Wolves can be a .500 team during the month of November, it keeps them deep in the playoff race in the Western Conference. After a 2-1 start, the Wolves have five of the next seven games at home. Tonight’s game against Orlando, Friday’s game against Indiana, and then three in a row starting Wednesday of next week against Charlotte, Golden State, and Denver. In between, there are two road games against Chicago and Dallas (without Dirk and possibly without Marion).
This is a stretch in which the Wolves really need to win at least four of these games.
Tonight’s game against Orlando should be one of those four wins. The Magic came out and shocked everybody by starting the season 2-0. After Dwight Howard was traded for veterans and protected lottery picks, the NBA world started pegging their lottery chances as quite high. But with a team of veterans who want to prove they can win without Dwight, the team has showed us a lot of pride in the first week of the season.
The Magic are currently without Hedo Turkoglu (broken hand), Al Harrington (knee injury) and possibly Jameer Nelson (his legs are falling apart). Those are two potential starters and three definite role players for Orlando. With the Magic down on talent already and missing key players, this is a game the Wolves have to put away early. This is what good teams do, even when they’re missing their two best players. Good teams take advantage of the wounded. They don’t play down to their competition; they show the competition where it needs to be to compete with them.
I think we’ll see more of the same good defense we’ve seen so far this season (16th in the NBA). But how many mistakes will the Wolves make and how many will Orlando be able to take advantage of? Minnesota has the 11th highest turnover rate as a team and have given up the 11th highest offensive rebounding rate to opposing teams.
These are two things that have to get better. Granted, it’s only been one week, but that doesn’t mean the team doesn’t have things to improve on right away. The rebounding part should be corrected once Kevin Love returns, but if they could sort it out prior to his comeback, it would go a long way toward keeping them in the Western Conference playoff run.
For today’s 3-on-3, I’ve pilfered writers from Hardwood Paroxysm. Noam Schiller makes his AWAW 3-on-3 return and he’s joined by Danny Chau. These guys are two of my favorite writers on the internet, especially when it comes to basketball. Noam is also currently rooting for our old friend Craig Smith, who is on Noam’s favorite Israeli team Hapoel. Danny is a friend of ours who once wrote up a scouting report on Alexey Shved for AWAY. Now we turn their attention to Orlando and the match-up tonight.
I also brought in Danny Nowell from Portland Roundball Society and formerly of Magic Basketball. Danny was immersed in the Dwightmare for a while before he moved to Portland. I can only assume Danny will one day be signed by this blog, in order to keep our influx of former Portlandia people constant. Also, I really don’t want to write about Orlando. That roster troubles me.
Let’s do it.
Noam Schiller, Hardwood Paroxysm: As Trey Kerby would call them, “The Awns“. I realize DeQuan Jones and E’Twaun Moore are hardly the sort of household names that put butts in seats, but that’s the beauty of a team working with a completely blank slate – unknowns get a chance to shine. So far, Moore has been brighter, shockingly averaging 15 points on 56% shooting while filling in for an injured Jameer Nelson, but Jones had some nice preseason moments and might be that yearly undrafted treat.
Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: The roster is so devoid of any player remotely close to superstardom, it’s endearing. Everyone (except Zach) loves a good underdog story, and it’ll almost be fun watching this team scrap for moral victories through sheer egalitarianism. Also, there are myths of a connection developing between Josh McRoberts and Gustavo Ayon, which is basically a dream come true for me. Running a McRoberts/Ayon pick-and-roll is a recipe for disaster in almost all contexts, but on the Magic, it’s an avenue worth exploring, because … why not? There’s no getting around it: Orlando has a bad roster. But in the limited nature of the team, there are limitless possibilities. And unpredictability can be dangerous in certain combinations.
Danny Nowell, Portland Roundball Society: “Interesting,” or good? That Glen Davis is among the lead leaders in usage is ceratinly “interesting,” but I’m not sure how much anybody wants to see that. But I have betrayed my college fandom and been won over to the cult or Redick, so I’m enjoying J.J. Unchained. The way he has tailored an entire, well-balanced game around what was essentially one NBA-level skill when he was drafted is just so impressive to me, and his performance so far as more of a focus means somebody is going to push to add him to a playoff roster.
2. At what point does Orlando tell the veterans they’re injured and just play the young guys?
Schiller: How about two days ago? Do you really think Hedo Turkoglu can break his hand that fast even with all that pizza padding? Or that Jameer Nelson can strain both his groin and his hamstring even though he’s so small they’re basically the same thing?
Chau: Ideally? Five hours ago.
Nowell: Well, today’s Wednesday, so maybe ask me again this weekend? Orlando’s in the unique position of their young players being unlikely core pieces—in essence, there’s not even really continuity to consider when weighing whether veterans will help the development of young players. If Jameer Nelson’s reported injuries change any more any time soon, we may already have our answer. Just kidding. OR AM I.
3. Andrei Kirilenko can be unleashed on one player in this game. Who do you assign him to harass?
Schiller: J.J. Redick. It’s not an easy choice. Sticking Kirilenko on a shooter will greatly limit his ability to roam and block shots, and Arron Afflalo is the Orlando offense’s biggest name and top perimeter scorer (Glen Davis is leading the entire team, and while I think AK47 can do reasonably well against him, you probably want Pek to guard him or else he’ll be running around the perimeter). The thing is, Afflalo is mostly getting shots for himself, and he’ll probably still do that regardless of defense. Redick, on the other hand, already has 19 assists in three games to go with his fairly crazy percentages, and Kirilenko’s length and mobility will be a great asset in negating the value of running off all those screens.
Chau: Arron Afflalo had an outstanding game against Chicago, and I’m sure he’ll be spending some time on Afflalo regardless, but I’d like Kirilenko on J.J. Redick, who appears to be the Magic’s best playmaker with Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu out. It’ll probably be a tedious duty given Redick’s proclivities as an off-the-ball shooter, but the team’s lack of a true facilitator foists the responsibility on Redick. He makes quick reads while he circles the floor, and many of his successful passes occur immediately after he catches the ball himself. Kirilenko’s presence should help obscure some of the passing angles. And if Nelson doesn’t return tonight, Redick may have to put the ball on the floor more often, which will fall right into Kirilenko’s cold, dead hands.
Nowell: Probably Arron Afflalo. Afflalo had a great game against Chicago, and is still probably the most consistently capable individual scorer on the roster. Redick is a candidate, depending on how much he and Afflalo share the court. Maybe AK could stand in front of Jacque Vaughn all game, so he can’t see the players well and has to just guess on plays and rotations.
Place: Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Time: 7pm Central Time
Viewing and listening pleasure: FS North and you can listen to it on 830 WCCO.
Records: Wolves are 2-1 and Magic are 2-1.
Don’t call it a comeback!
After the comeback in Brooklyn a couple nights ago, I’m feeling very good about this team. I’m not sure if it’s excitement that will hold through this stretch of games, but the second unit seemed to find their identity and getting guys like Shved and Dante confidence for when they come into the game is a big thing right now. Also, Chase Budinger found his jumper.
Now if we can just have Brandon Roy back on track with his shooting, the Wolves should be in a relatively good place.