Nuggets 117, Timberwolves 113: Seemingly little effort at altitude
I’m not sure what you blame this one on but I do think it was a fascinating game.
There’s the altitude issue that we can start with when looking at this game. Honestly, I know it’s a thing that players have to adjust to on the fly but I don’t think it should take away from the effort and decision-making. If it’s going to be harder for you to move because you need to catch your second wind, you should be playing a much better mental game than what we saw from the Wolves tonight. Early on in the game, it wasn’t that they couldn’t get to their rotations. We simply didn’t see the rotations on a lot of these plays at the basket.
So what is that all about?
After the Wolves came back from their own inertia in the first game of the season against the Orlando Magic, Corey Brewer had a comment that I found very curious after the game. He was essentially asked about this team being a playoff team and his response was that he felt the Wolves needed to win seven of their first 10 games to be a playoff team. Now, he didn’t mean that this team wasn’t going to make the playoffs if they went 4-6 or 5-5 or 6-4 in their first 10 games. It was just a good measuring stick for what he thought this team could or should do.
In the first 10 games, the Wolves ended up posting a 6-4 record and showing us every bit of evidence with why they will make the playoffs and what could prevent them from making the playoffs in the West. Why will they make the playoffs in the West this year? The offense is exquisite, so exquisite that we have plenty of times in which the bench doesn’t even have to be good this season for it get good marks. Rick Adelman has done a pretty good job of adjusting the bench minutes as we go through this early part of the season by staggering the substitutions. You’re seeing Nikola Pekovic out there with guys from the second unit. You’re seeing Kevin Martin in there next to JJ Barea. You’re seeing the two-PG lineup of Ricky Rubio and Barea. There’s some good mixing and matching.
The defense has also been pretty good believe it or not, even after last night. Wolves are currently eighth in the NBA in defensive efficiency because they’re not fouling and they’re forcing turnovers. Last night the Wolves didn’t really foul all that much (22 times in a 107 possession game isn’t bad) but they didn’t manage to force turnovers (just 15). It’s hard to force turnovers when you’re out of position and the Wolves just weren’t in position on defense a whole lot last night. Blame Kevin Love. Blame Nikola Pekovic. Blame Corey Brewer. Blame Dante Cunningham. Blake Kevin Martin. Blame Ricky Rubio. Blame JJ Barea. I guess you can even blame Robbie Hummel but I don’t remember seeing many, if any mistakes from him.
There was an apathy to what the Wolves threw out there against the Denver Nuggets, at least that’s how it seemed. It’s hard to tell someone they didn’t try hard without knowing whether or not they actually did try hard and the result was just crap. Those games happen in pro sports. Sometimes you’re just not present even though you may feel you’re trying. But we can say what it looked like and without guys in position for most of the game, it looked like the attention to detail wasn’t there.
Even though this is a bad Denver Nuggets team, the Wolves simply aren’t good enough to march into a road game like that, give an incomplete effort, and expect to walk away with a victory. I’m not sure if that’s what actually happened, but at times it certainly looked like it. The Nuggets are not good right now but the Wolves still have to bring it. If you match the energy of Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried, you can beat them. It’s as simple as that. That inconsistent looking effort is something that plagued this team last season too.
When we talked about it last season, we lauded the team for the fight they had in getting back into games, although often too late. Some of that has spilled over to this season with this team. I’m not sure it’s a good thing overall. Yes, the Wolves have some fight in them even in games that seem like nothing can go correctly for them. They’ve managed to come back in Cleveland and in Denver to give themselves a chance to steal a road victory in an apathetic game. That can be entirely avoided by finding a way to spark yourself early and overcome whatever it is that is keeping you from being yourself.
This is something the Wolves have to find a way to correct. Could Gorgui Dieng have provided some help on the floor as a rim protector? He could have but that also would have put the offense at a huge disadvantage, which late in the game they needed to be just as good as the defense. Would Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf have helped curb that malaise? It’s possible. Both of those guys give great effort when they’re healthy and find ways to energize a club.
Regardless of what could have happened out there, what should have happened out there is the Wolves walking away from this thing with a 7-3 record.
Kevin Love walked away from this game with 28 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists even though it didn’t feel like he played that complete of a game. Ricky Rubio had a goose egg in the scoring column but he managed to whip 12 assists around, grab eight rebounds, and get a ménages à trois of steals. Kevin Martin found a way to drop 27 points. Nikola Pekovic had an efficient game scoring the ball inside and Corey Brewer provided a spark at times. JJ Barea kept them in this ball game and actually made the bench unit have a positive impact with his stellar scoring against Denver.
They had a bad game and still walked away with a narrow defeat and cool stats. That was good enough two years ago; it’s not good enough anymore.
Games like that are frustrating because we now know after 10 games that this team is too talented to have many more moments like that. The problem is they need the mental focus to break through games like that earlier and keep a consistent effort the rest of the night. This Wolves team can’t afford to throw away too many games this year if they’re planning on making the playoffs. They’re good but they’re not that good, at least not yet.