Here is Rick Adelman on the Wolves’ leaden, dispiriting loss to the Mavs:
We just didn’t have any energy. We had shot after shot and missed shot after shot. They ran a lot of people in in the first half. I know they were thinking we played last night and the travel. We just wore down…They are willing but we were a step behind and I think it’s physical and mental both.
Very little needs to be added to that assessment. There is, of course, the ongoing problem of the Wolves missing almost all of their best players and trotting out a threadbare crew of role players and D-Leaguers. Add to that the fact that they were playing the night after an exhausting loss in Denver, a very late flight and losing an hour of sleep…well it all adds up to some fatigued, uninspired basketball.
Right now, the Wolves are faced with some structural issues that haunt them in nearly every game they play. First is their size. Without his top two scorers and entire starting frontcourt, Rick Adelman has decided that a three-guard lineup featuring some combination of Shved, Rubio, Barea and Ridnour is his best chance to score points. This is probably accurate but it brings with it the serious disadvantage, fully acknowledged by Adelman, that one of those little fellows will likely have to guard a much bigger player. Against Dallas, that bigger player was one Vince Carter who took every opportunity–in the post, on the perimeter, in isolation, wherever–to drain those languid, high-arcing jumpers of his over his much smaller defender. (Incidentally, when he was on the floor, Mickael Gelabale, had much better luck containing Carter.)
It would also help if those any of those four guards could hit a shot. As we have demonstrated in revolting detail, the Wolves are terrible at shooting: structural issue number two. (By the way, I hope you’ll agree that Zach’s fascination with the fine grains of the Wolves’ three-point shooting is both genuinely admirable and also a little repulsive. I mean, the gritty detail, the spreadsheets, the graphics, all to exhaustively illustrate the Wolves’ horrifying inability to hit wide-open threes, something we all know to be true. That is masochism.) Adelman made one point bracingly clear after the game. Defense, schemes, execution: these things are all well and good. But if you can’t hit shots in the NBA, you cannot win. In this game, the Wolves’ guards, the engines of their entire offensive idea (such as it is), hit just 12 of their 43 field goals. I’d rather not share with you what percentage that is. (Its 27.9%.)
Also, this happened:
Finally, with the occasional exception of J.J. Barea, Ricky Rubio is the only Timberwolf capable of creating consistent offensive continuity and production. And so, as we discussed last night, when Rubio is anything less than transcendent, the Wolves offense goes stagnant. So add to all of these issues the punishing fatigue that the Wolves are clearly suffering from and we get debacles like we saw these past two nights: wobbly, low energy defense, poor execution, offensive efficiencies south of .8 points per possession, shooting percentages in the low forties and high thirties, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.
Its worth mentioning, too, that at least two Timberwolves are playing something close to their worst basketball at the moment. We’ve discussed Shved before, his staggeringly poor shooting (he’s hit 22 of his last 84 shots!), his ball-stopping (just 13 assists in his last 11 games!), his sallow, heavy-lidded demeanor and the general air of worn out aimlessness that is permeating his game.
But what about Dante Cunningham? At one point in the season Cunningham was a model of bristling energy, creating chaos on defense and crashing the offensive glass. On top of that, he was possibly the Wolves’ most consistent mid-range jumpshooter. Remember when that open 17-footer was nearly automatic? Now, for whatever reason, that jumper has abandoned him; he’s hit just 34 of his last 84 shots, many of those the same open elbow j that he once drained so efficiently. Even worse, he has been far less energetic on both ends of the court. Maybe he’s playing with pain. Maybe its just a slump. Maybe the grind of the long season has caught up with him. He wouldn’t be the only one.