Over the course of an NBA season, some nights are going to seem eerily similar to previous ones. Following a team with (mostly) healthy personnel (like the Wolves) and a coach with two decades’ worth of schematic consistency (such as Rick Adelman) can make some games feel like facsimiles of others. Strengths are strengths, weaknesses are weaknesses – without roster upheaval or a radical change in philosophy, if the same group of guys comes to the floor every night, the product is bound to appear familiar.
Monday night was a blowout, but we’ve seen blowouts before. Ten of Minnesota’s 17 victories have come by double-digit margins. Like they did in Detroit, the Wolves traveled to an Eastern Conference city, shot the ball well from the perimeter (16-of-26 in this one) and turned the game into laugher early in the second half. Corey Brewer spurred the offensive attack in the second quarter, as he couldn’t miss from downtown (3-for-3), just like he did in an early-season shellacking of the Cavaliers. Nikola Pekovic pushed around a weak post defender (Spencer Hawes) and racked up 16 points and 14 rebounds, evoking memories of what he did to the Pelicans’ Ryan Anderson on New Year’s Day. And Kevin Love spent the first half blending in before bursting into the spotlight with 16 third quarter points, effectively putting the game out of reach, much like he did during the Wolves recent trip to Milwaukee.
The difference, of course, was that the Timberwolves’ starters had to return in the fourth against the lowly Bucks, and against other blown-out teams, when the reserves were unable to continue the thrashing. Tonight, that wasn’t the case. The bench is never consistent from one game to the next – and lately, it seems, if the shots are falling for one member of the reserve unit, they’re falling for all of them. Tonight, good J.J. Barea showed up, Alexey Shved was confident and assertive (he finished through contact at the rim – I kid you not!) and Dante Cunningham’s patented (and streaky) midrange jumper found the bottom of the net. Those three combined for 24 points in the first half alone, and since the final 15 minutes of the game were certified garbage time, Robbie Hummel, A.J. Price and Gorgui Dieng got to join the party. Minnesota’s bench contributed 47 points – more than the previous three games’ worth of bench production combined.
The one Timberwolf who failed to score was Ronny Turiaf, who made his triumphant return from an elbow injury that sidelined him for 31 games. His fall, which came in the second quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder way back on November 1st, looked and sounded terrible, even from the other end of the court (where I was sitting). In the meantime, he’s been one of the most vocal cheerleaders on the Wolves’ bench; it was nice to see him back on the floor.
Though poor positioning on his part led to a couple of easy layups, his energy (9 rebounds in 22 minutes) and ability to spell Kevin Love, who’s been moonlighting as the backup center with the second unit, are welcome additions to the Wolves’ bench. Something else that will hopefully improve with Turiaf back on the floor is the communication on the defensive end, which has been a festering problem for the Timberwolves since he went down. Take the example, below, when the five Minnesota starters are still on the court:
Now, I’m not suggesting all of the Wolves’ communication issues on that end will be cleared up by osmosis – he’s been plenty talkative on the bench, but to no avail – but if Turiaf plays 15-to-20 minutes per game, hopefully, the second unit will start generating more stops. And who knows – maybe a few good habits form.
Habits, such as: getting back on defense, stopping the ball when you do get back in transition, and protecting the painted area. The Sixers shot 58% while they were really trying (during the first half) and were felled primarily by their plethora of turnovers (22 for the game, adding to their league-leading total). Thaddeus Young, MCW and James Anderson (of all people) got to the rim at will in the first half.
It probably isn’t fair to harp on the Wolves’ shortcomings on a night they won by 31 points, but there wasn’t much that we really learned from the game. Every time the Wolves shot a three, the rim appeared to be 36 inches in diameter (as opposed to 18). Some nights, you can’t miss. Monday night, Minnesota couldn’t miss.
Usually when you make a copy of a copy of a copy, the most recent one doesn’t look so great – the crispness begins to fade. The Timberwolves avoided such blaching against Philadelphia, but if they want to get where their potential (and their superstar) demands them to, maybe the team needs to draw up a new blueprint. Blowing out inferior teams without cleaning up the smudge marks on your game doesn’t make you any better – and while the coming schedule appears favorable, we’ve seen enough of these blowouts (and letdown games following a blowout) to allow ourselves to be overconfident moving forward.