2013-14 Season

Timberwolves 98, Jazz 72: No Frozen Yogurt for You

Love and Martin

Sports, like life, are full of trite turns of phrase and overused cliches. It’s possible to conduct entire interviews (while covering a player or team) as well as have entire conversations (in real life situations) without saying much of anything at all, other than tired, recycled jargon. If you’ve spent any time watching postgame press conferences, or if you’ve ever been stuck talking to someone you have no interest in conversing with, you know the drill. The great baseball flick Bull Durham devotes an entire scene to how important cliches are to professional athletes:

The purpose of such babble: to obfuscate truth and sincerity in the interest of time management. A simpler translation: it’s easier to be vague, sometimes. It requires less effort, and less elaboration. Instead of using the gift of language to explain ourselves, we instead deploy it as a masking agent, coyly shying away from our true thoughts and emotions in favor of simple platitudes. “We’ve got to play them one day at a time,” the professional athlete says. “How about this crazy weather we’ve been having?” you ask your neighbor, during a lull in a forced conversation.

Some cliches are, however, indicative of deeper truths. In life, and in sports, communication is vital to success. Following the Wolves’ thrashing of the Jazz, “communication” was the buzz word at the coach’s podium, and in the locker room afterward. “Good communication defensively,” Rick Adelman said. “I thought Kevin (Love) was really good, he was really talking out there.” “All five players were really talking, trying to help each other,” said Nikola Pekovic. “When everyone’s talking, it’s easier.” “It’s fun when we play as a team, when we play like that, and everyone communicates,” Ricky Rubio stated.

The talk on the defensive end of the floor was apparent from the get-go, and was the loudest I’ve heard all season. Love and Pekovic in particular set the tone on that end; the entire bench (led by Ronny Turiaf, of course) was invested as well. The Jazz shot 28.8% from the field (21-for-73), and while some of the missed baskets came at the rim (Jeremy Evans and Derrick Favors each had an episode in which they missed several point-blank shots in a row) the Wolves did a good job of forcing contested jumpers and taking away transition opportunities. The Jazz, 23rd in the league in Offensive Efficiency (99.4 points per 100 possessions), were without Gordon Hayward for the second consecutive game, but Minnesota still snuffed out the talented Trey Burke (2-of-10 from the floor) and Derrick Favors (3-of-10).

Communication came in many forms in this game. Nikola Pekovic demonstrably told Ricky Rubio to shoot on an early possession in which he circled under the basket and through the lane without thinking to make a shot attempt. Fans communicated their displeasure as Alexey Shved dribbled out the clock, his refusal to shoot denying them the Cherry Berry promotion (free yogurt if the Wolves score 100 points and win the game!) they felt enitlted to. Ronny Turiaf and Chase Budinger, long after the game was over, discussed each other’s preferences for dribble hand-off situations, trying to get a feel for what the other likes to do. At his locker, Kevin Love joked around with Barea and Pekovic, the specifics of which I won’t get into, and even poked fun at the supposed rift between he and the Puerto Rican point guard, as if he was trying to send a message to the assembled media that everything was fine between the two of them.

As for the specifics of the contest – the Jazz had absolutely no answer for Pek. Favors, Kanter, Gobert, no one in a Utah uniform could slow down the Wolves’ big man, who scored via his usual bag of tricks: grounded runners across the lane, hook shots, putbacks, and at the free throw line. Kevin Love dropped another ho-hum (for him) line of 18 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists. Kevin Martin continued his struggles from beyond the arc (1-of-6 from downtown) but found other ways to score en route to a 20 point effort. Ricky Rubio had a very Rubioan line of 6 points (on 2-of-6 shooting), 8 rebounds and 9 assists.

With the game in hand, and the rout in full effect, the bench got extended time. The starters and inactives (Robbie Hummel and A.J. Price) cheered demonstrably as Chase Budinger finally sank a three pointer late in the contest, snapping the cold spell he’s been endured since returning from his knee injury. Everyone sitting on the bench (led by Love and Turiaf) went bananas when Gorgui Dieng banked in a jumper early in the fourth quarter, and later got a good laugh at the expense of Gorgui when an errant half-court alley-oop pass crashed into the backboard without hope of success. Even Shabazz Muhammad, 1-of-5 from the field (and begging for foul calls on every miss) got a nice ovation when he finally sank a shot.

Another tired cliche with a ring of truth to it: winning cures everything. Was the great communication, camaraderie and teamwork a function of blowing out an overmatched team, or vice-versa? Is the relationship between the two causal, or symbiotic?

At any rate – for a night, winning cured the Minnesota’s ills – even if you were one of those booing them off the floor, your hopes for free Cherry Berry dashed by their failure to crack triple digits. A loss would’ve meant more angst, more division, more blame. For one night, anyway, the Wolves talked their way through it, as cliched as it may be. Now they have to take their speakeasy on a West Coast tour.

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12 thoughts on “Timberwolves 98, Jazz 72: No Frozen Yogurt for You

  1. I enjoyed this, and I agree with the general tone and candor you guys have approached most of this season with. That being said, (and you said as much) it is hard to know what tonight revealed about this team.

    Portions of the 1st half were downright brutal to watch. Perhaps the early cohesion of the offense and all those 40 point first quarters set up some unrealistic expectations, but the propensity for this offense to go cold is distressing. Kevin Martin, though he did a better job tonight, has been difficult to endure. Brewer is the double-edged sword he has always been, and all of this serves to make every Rubio layup that rolls off the rim all the more glaring. I love Rubio, and I agree that the way he affects the game can elude even the more advanced statistics, but his lack of finishing is distressing, especially when the Wolves don’t get back in transition, which still happens too often.

    All is not lost, Pekovic is turning into even more of monster than he was last year, and Kevin Love is Kevin Love. Alderman has obviously been getting some heat about this teams performance, and even this is difficult to evaluate. When it is being executed, Adelman’s offense is beautiful to watch, but it requires discipline and focus from everyone on the court f

  2. for a majority of the time, and this is where the trouble starts. That is why this team is so perplexing, it seems like they have all the pieces in place, but when they struggle, they panic. When they play against disciplined, solid defense, they break down. Maybe this shouldn’t be that shocking, but I was really hoping that some of the Jekyll and Hyde aspects of this team would be slightly dialed down this year. I don’t know if that falls upon Adelman, but at some point, when we have acquired nearly all of the players that would fit well into his system, you have to wonder if what we are doing is doomed to failure.

    Of course, this all depends upon what your definition of success is. Making the playoffs would obviously be a great place to start, but is complicated by the impending: “It’s too cold in Minnesota and Kevin Love is going to leave because nothing, NOTHING, nice can ever happen to us,” Minnesotan panic attack that gains traction with every painful loss the team endures.

    I apologize for the length of this, but I wanted to illustrate the inherent confliction that I feel about this, which obviously would take much more time. Basically, everything I described above, describes what many thought the Timberwolves could be this season, a seven or eighth seed in the West. But, as the past few weeks have so perfectly pointed out, this same team could also completely come apart at the seams. They simply don’t have anyone who can break down another team off the dribble, which makes their cohesion on both ends of the floor so important. I still have faith in them, but something still seems to be missing. I don’t know who or what that something is, but as currently constructed, “Communicating,” and “Playing together as a team” needs to be the expectation rather than the obfuscation or the exception for this team to be successful.

  3. Games like this made me happy early in the season
    latley they make me think


    If you listen to the broadcasts you hear it all the time
    Rick Adelmans offense has been copied all around the league…

    So why not get a guy who can coach the offense AND motivate the team?
    The Adelman project was a great idea…just didnt work out
    I hope Flip can read the writing on the wall.

    It going to be another rebuild-

    Klove and RA are out the door… we might as well start treating it as that.
    Someday in the not to distant future we will look back on this season as the
    “Remember when we tried really hard with that crappy Klove team that made the 8th seed so we Juuuuuuuust missed keeping our pick that eventually became Joel Embiid season”

  4. Good recap guys, as usual. At this point, I am beginning to realize that wolves are good enough to blow out probably half the teams in the NBA and have to fight it out against the other half. The main issue with this team in my opinion is when put under pressure (by any team, under any circumstance especially in the 4th quarter), they go away from what makes them a good offensive team – stick to fundamentals and execute. That’s what kills me the most. But every once in two games (on average), they do give us games like this to keep coming back to watch them. Hey, you know what, at the end of last year, all we asked for was a team that doesn’t suck and I ought to be ‘happy’ with this. Anyways, here’s to Wolves turning it around soon… Go Wolves!

    – ‘On the fence’ Wolves Fan

  5. I think Andreas touched on a very good point:

    “I don’t know if that falls upon Adelman, but at some point, when we have acquired nearly all of the players that would fit well into his system, you have to wonder if what we are doing is doomed to failure.”

    It might not be Adelman’s fault entirely, but maybe his system is no longer a viable means to win games in today’s NBA? In a league that seems more and more dependent on defense and 3-pt shooting, the Timberwolves seem to have neither. You see it in the playoffs every year: the game slows down, and good teams find ways to get stops and hit big shots down the stretch. There is just so little margin for error with this Wolves team, it’s painful to watch.

    I would also like to point out here that even if this team makes the playoffs, a good defensive team (and smart coach) is going to exploit Ricky Rubio’s shooting to the point where Adelman can’t have him on the floor. It saddens me, but his shooting is not something that you can “hide” in a meaningful, playoff series. Teams used to do this to Rajon Rondo early in his career.

  6. Right, well theoretically the Wolves should be able to shoot league average or better from behind the arc. Love and Martin are good 3pt shooters. Budinger can shoot the three. Rubio is shooting almost 37% from behind the arc. It would be nice to see the breakdown of team 3pt shooting.

    I think Shved can shoot the three, but there seems to be this “confidence” problem around the Wolves. I wonder how much of it has to do with Adelman, and how much of it has to do with Kevin Love.

    Anyway, how about Shved’s stat lines? Since Budinger’s return, he’s one of the best players on the team. That guy has got some potential.

  7. so sick and tired of this team – at this point it even makes me mad when they blowout a wack team like the jazz.
    after all those years this season should’ve been the real deal – and now its the most disappointing team in the entire league – they’re not even fun to watch anymore.

    so blow it up – when we are rebuilding theres at least hope for better days

  8. Not to be a downer but I feel like people who are relentlessly optimistic about the current team are looking at it in a vacuum rather than relative to its competition.

    “Rick Adelman is a great coach”. Yes, he is. But just in the Western Conference, is he a better coach in 2014 than Rick Carlisle? Terry Stotts? Greg Popovich? Jeff Hornacek? Doc Rivers? Mark Jackson? Is he even a notably better coach for his team than Kevin McHale? I think one has to conclude, probably not. In a vacuum Rick Adelman is a great coach. But among the playoff contenders in the West, he is a middling-lower-bottom tier good coach. And unlike Jackson or Hornacek, he isn’t getting any better. He is what he is.

    “They’re a young team, we have to give them time.” But their core is not meaningfully younger than the Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, Blazers and Warriors, who are better. Are they even better than Memphis? Can they stay ahead of the Suns and Pelicans? As old as the Spurs are, is there a clear path to the Wolves being better than them any time soon? If the answer to all of these questions are “no” or “maybe” for the next 2-3 years (I don’t think there is any point in projecting past that for any time), then what are we giving them time to become?

    “People who say Rubio is regressing are wrong, he is the same player as last year. Besides, he is still young and improving.” I hear this a lot, which is inherently contradictory. A young player is either improving, or he is regressing, unless he has peaked, and if this is Rubio’s peak, he is an average point guard at best. And fine, he is young and improving. Unfortunately the following PGs are in their prime or also improving in the West: Westbrook, Parker, Curry, Lillard, Burke, Conley, Paul, Bledsoe and Dragic, Thomas, Holiday, Lin, Lawson. Again, in a vacuum Rubio is a fun point guard who is young and (ostensibly) improving. However the reality is that there are lots of equally young point guards who have improved faster, there are lots of PGs who are in their prime and just plain better, and new good young points will enter the league every year. Who doubts that Exum and Smart probably will be as good or better than Rubio when they enter the league? I am not ripping on Rubio, I am just saying if you step away and look at the big picture at this position, you can’t just say “he is young and getting better” because the competition is fierce, and some of it is getting away from him.

    None of this is to say the Wolves aren’t a big move or two away from a game changer, the Rockets and Warriors have both gone from 7-8 seeds to contenders very quickly by making big free agent signings and a couple of smart drafts. But let’s not kid ourselves by doting on this team in a vacuum like myopic grandparents. Without a game changer this team isn’t going anywhere, no matter how much time it gets. In a vacuum we have a young team and a great coach. But relative to the rest of the West it the talent, the coaching and the organizational savvy are all average and there is no reason this team can break out of the pack, no matter how many times it smokes terrible teams at home.

  9. Where has Corey Brewer gone? In the past 5 games especially he’s been practically non-existent. He’s kind of whimsically bouncing around, back and forth on the court like Tom Bombadil, seemingly unconcerned with the events unfolding on the court . In his first 20 games this season, he was averaging about 12 field goal attempts per game. Now it’s maybe 6 shot attempts per game. His other stats have suffered downfalls as well.

  10. @Mac
    Rick Adelman has a winning percentage of .584 over 22 seasons, which includes these last two seasons, when the Wolves were ravaged with injuries. I don’t think that he is a better coach than Popovich (even though RA might be, had he had Duncan, Robinson, Parker and Ginobili), but to throw him under guys like Stotts, Jackson and Hornacek is flatout ridiculous. Stotts has never had a winning season until now, Jackson is in his 3rd season and Hornacek is a rookie headcoach. You wanna suggest, that Adelman is a worse coach than a ROOKIE headcoach? Are you basing that suggestion on anything substantial besides the Suns surprising good record (which at the end of the season might be worse than the Wolves record)?

    The biggest issues the Wolves have is not their coach, they have one of the worst benches in the league and everyone except for Love and Martin is shooting the threeball at a below average percentage.

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