The pressure of learning when you should win
The Minnesota Timberwolves are a good team.
This is fun to say. This is also weird to say. Last season, we were enjoying an incredible ride for the first 41.98 games of the campaign. Kevin Love was playing like an MVP candidate (remember when Wolves fans still liked him?), Nikola Pekovic was emerging as the Chuck Norris of the NBA, and Ricky Rubio was dancing around our hearts with his one-handed bounce passes and defensive effectiveness. They had us believing that the playoffs were a legitimate possibility because Rick Adelman was coaching three really good players and a bunch of middling role players.
Then the ACL tear happened and then the bone spurs in Pek’s ankle happened and then Love was concussed and we were left with Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, and a rat maze of feces the team couldn’t get out of. The lone highlight after Love’s showdown with Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City ended up being the Wolves finally winning an April game.
The fallout of the falling out of the 2011-12 season led to a huge roster overhaul. As now we see the roster before us. The crazy thing is it’s not even our complete roster. The Wolves are still missing Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, and Malcolm Lee right now. Josh Howard is out with a hyperextended knee too. The Wolves are getting by with Andrei Kirilenko’s awesomeness, Pek coming into his own the last few games offensively and playing great defense all season, Alexey Shved proving a spark off the bench before and in the lineup now, and the Barea-Ridnour combo playing really good basketball as of late.
And Kevin Love might actually get an immune system. Oh yeah, and some Spanish kid came back to be our backup point guard for a little while.
That doesn’t even mention Dante Cunningham being a perfect player off the bench, Derrick Williams making better decisions, and Greg Stiemsma protecting the rim between 3-point celebrations.
So now we get to tonight’s game. The Wolves are on a four-game winning streak and three of those game came with either a poor showing from Kevin Love or no Love at all. And while that leads to pitchforks and torches from the townsfolk, it really just shows us this team is really talented. The Wolves aren’t so talented that we should pretend Kevin Love doesn’t matter, isn’t important, or shouldn’t be here long-term. That would be completely asinine.
Because this team is so talented when you get a matchup like tonight against the Orlando Magic, it puts you in a weird place. The Wolves should absolutely beat the Magic tonight, even if it is on the road. Even if it’s the third game in four nights, it shouldn’t matter. The Wolves are a much better team with a better coach than what Orlando is sporting. Orlando has played above expectations this year, battled injuries, and Jacque Vaughn looks like another successful Popovich disciple. But that doesn’t mean they should win this game against Minnesota.
The problem is Minnesota has a big game against the Miami Heat tomorrow night and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. This is what the people like to call “a trap game.”
This isn’t the same bad Orlando team we saw on November 7th. They have Jameer Nelson running the show and that’s about 100 times better than the E’Twaun Moore-Ish Smith combination we say, and I don’t even think Jameer is that good anymore. The Wolves won’t be able to pressure the ball like they did in the first matchup between the two teams.
However, this will be a good measure of just how good this Wolves team is. Good teams handle the teams they’re supposed to beat. When it’s a team they’re supposed to beat on the road, it might be fairly tight for much of the game, but the good team should still end up winning relatively comfortably. The return of Rubio galvanized everybody Saturday night, but playing against a lesser opponent with that hangover could be a recipe for playing content and not showing the same hunger we want from this team.
This game is a litmus test for the Wolves as much as the upcoming Miami game (no Rubio that night) and the Oklahoma City game will be to round out the week of action. It’s exciting to see what the Wolves are made of through all of these different situations. They’ve powered through the injuries. They’ve powered through national articles and exciting returns. Now they get to power through what could easily be a big sack of malaise in Orlando. They have a chance for their first five-game winning streak since January of 2009 when the Wolves were coached by… yep, you guessed it…
Randy Wittman Kevin McHale.
As this team gets healthier and the rotation builds toward what we envisioned in the fall, we’ll get to see a lot more tests for just how good this team is. This is weird and a lot of fun.