Nuggets 117, Timberwolves 110: Sleeve it All on the Floor

William Bohl —  November 28, 2013 — 4 Comments
Rubio in Sleeves

You probably need some cheering up, so here’s Ricky Rubio (in the Timberwolves’ sleek new v-neck shirsey) with a neckerchief, courtesy of Steve McPherson.

There are plenty of reasons why the Timberwolves lost to the Nuggets on Wednesday night. Denver scored 60 points in the paint, exploiting Minnesota’s questionable perimeter defense and lack of a rim-protecting big man to compensate for it. The Nuggets erupted for a 36-point second quarter, extending the halftime lead to nine (64-55), a difficult hole for any team to crawl out of. Ten (10!!!) different Denver players logged 18 minutes or more, keeping fresh legs on the court at all times, their capable bench unit outscoring the Wolves’ bench players 47-10. Minnesota’s assist-to-turnover ratio was 19-16. Shall I go on?

A loss causes fans, coaches, media members and players to look beyond the box score an into the realm of the abstract for explanations. Postgame, Rick Adelman repeatedly stressed his disappointment with the team’s effort, especially early in the game, and hinted that his players may not be handling their early-season success very well: “There’s been all this talk about what kind of team we can be. I don’t care what people talk about… we have done nothing.” Corey Brewer, candid as always, echoed his coach’s sentiments and elaborated on the mental state of the Timberwolves: “We’ve got to get some kind of swag, or energy. I was in Denver last year, and we thought we were the greatest team ever, even when we weren’t. We need to get an identity. We don’t have an identity yet.”

Kevin Love’s assessment of the loss, on the other hand, was practical (and succinct):

“We just need to play some f—–g defense.”

It’s impossible to quantify energy levels and difficult to identify what, precisely, “swag” is. So instead of focusing on those lacking aspects of the Wolves’ loss to the Nuggets, I’ll focus on a couple of plays that offer concrete examples of problems on the defensive end, namely, lack of communication and knowing when (and when not) to gamble on the perimeter.

Communication

The first play is from early in the fourth quarter – the Wolves, trailing by 6, need to start getting stops in order to close the gap.

Communication 2

Miller begins to attack – notice Jordan Hamilton (#1 in blue, bottom of the screen) begin sliding to his right…

Communication 3

Barea gets caught up in the screen, Dante Cunningham doesn’t sink back to take away the baseline cut, and Jordan Hamilton has a ton of space to work with on his way to the hoop.

Communication 4

Pekovic fails to come over and provide weak side help, and Denver winds up with an easy two points off very simple action.

A Gamble

The Wolves cleaned things up long enough to go on a run and make a game of it. Their 10-0 spurt from 5:45 to 3:57 of the fourth quarter was characterized by tough defense and transition buckets. Minnesota forced Denver into contested Andre Miller jumpers, a Nate Robinson three-point attempt from somewhere out in the suburbs, and turned perimeter steals into Kevin Martin layups on the other end of the floor. 44 minutes into a game plagued with (largely self-inflicted) problems, Minnesota was down by a point (103-102) and had momentum on their side.

They gave it all right back, unfortunately, which brings me to point number two: knowing when to take a gamble. In the example below, the Nuggets are holding the ball with a five point lead (107-102) and 2:40 to go.

Gamble 1

Brewer, guarding Andre Miller, plays him tight, despite the aging point guard’s lack of perimeter range. He goes for the steal attempt…

Gamble 2

… but is unsuccessful, thereby giving Andre Miller the couple of steps he needs to get into the lane. Notice Pekovic sliding forward to stop the penetration, and his man, J.J. Hickson (#7 in blue) cutting to the basket.

Gamble 3

Miller deftly slips a pass through the Wolves’ defenders and Hickson finishes the play with an athletic stuff. Just like that, the Wolves are down seven with 2:30 to go in the game.

Despite all the Wolves’ problems – low energy levels, the rough second quarter, the lack of defensive execution, reliance on Ricky Rubio jumpers early in the third quarter, the poor shooting night from the perimeter (5-for-20) and few fastbreak opportunities for much of the game – despite all that, it was a one possession game with 1:10 left to play. If the Wolves got another stop, they’d be in business.

Well…

As Jim Peterson says in the video, it does no good to complain about officiating… but this was a tough pill to swallow at the end of a close game. Pekovic’s block on Lawson was clean – it was rather apparent live, and while the video isn’t the greatest quality (my apologies), replays showed Big Pek getting all ball. The officials aren’t the reason the Wolves lost the game – see the first 800 words of this column for an explanation why – but they certainly didn’t help matters.

It’s tempting to start drawing grand conclusions about this year’s team from their recent difficult stretch (they’ve lost five of six) but – at the risk of sounding like a homer – everyone should relax. Rick Adelman’s still figuring out his rotations, and will use practice on Friday to integrate his newest piece (Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who dressed but didn’t play) into the mix. The schedule, which has been brutal for the past week, stays that way through the month of December. (Combined 2012-13 winning percentage among December opponents? .561. Sheesh…) It takes time for pieces to gel, for a team to come together and become the truest version of themselves.

The box score offers plenty of explanations for why the Wolves lost. If you watched the game, you’ve got plenty others, I’m sure. If you look at the big picture – the Wolves have managed to hang around on nights they’ve failed to play anywhere close to the top of their game. Denver could end up being a very good basketball team, which would make this defeat look like less of a blemish and more like a learning opportunity.

The same applies to Minnesota.

 

William Bohl

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4 responses to Nuggets 117, Timberwolves 110: Sleeve it All on the Floor

  1. I gotta say love the shirsey’s – how mean does pek look in them! Good article and mbah a moute will definetly help but why is Dieng not seeing any consistent game time even without turiaf back. Letting him get some minutes with the starters or at least Rubio, Martin and Love would go along way and offer some much much needed rim protection.

  2. Man, that game last night hurt because they made so many silly mistakes. After watching Rubio go up against Christ Paul, George Hill and Ty Lawson, I think one of the biggest problems the TWolves have is this: Ricky gets beat off the dribble and the opposing point guard either gets a layup or passes to his big man for a dunk/layup. In his rookie year Ricky did a better job of anticipating which way the pg was going to go and was able to move into position for the charge.
    I also agree with what Corey Brewer said: This team needs to get tougher. After that Pek block on Lawson I would’ve liked to see someone pick up a technical foul. It puts more pressure on the refs to get it right the next time. Somebody on the Nuggets picked up a tech I think in the third quarter and the Nuggets got every single call after that.

  3. Right, well it’s hard to pinpoint how the Wolves lost, because they made so many mistakes. Turnovers, bad defense, missing shots, hesitant at the arc (Love).

    Personally, I think Ricky needs to get that mid-range jumper going. It just takes so much pressure off the ball movement if your point guard can hit a jumper coming off a pick. Ricky isn’t much of a threat to close at the rim, so he needs to hit that jumper.

    But in my mind, Love and Rubio are underperforming. Neither of them is taking over games and having dominant stretches.

  4. I think people just need to relax. Like the post says, this is the toughest part of the schedule all year. The woofs are playing a ton of games against some of the best teams in the league.

    Aside from complaining about the schedule or the refs (which accomplishes nothing) this woofs team really can play some ball. Adelman clearly knows what he’s doing and the wolves couldn’t be in better hands. So people relax, take a deep breath, and look forward to February where if all goes as planned we should have a solid enough record to secure a playoff spot.

    In Rick we trust. Howl yeah. Go woofs.

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