We’ve been here before, hoping for competitive losses.
I should clarify. I’ve certainly been here before. I can’t assume you guys are necessarily there with me and based on the frustration flowing through my Twitter feed and some of the local media on Sunday, I might be mostly alone on this one for now. That’s probably the case because this is the latest in a season the Wolves have been competitive in about a decade. It’s also probably because the expectations heading into this season were competing for the playoffs. With roughly three weeks left, it would take two monumental collapses and the Wolves not collapsing to make that a reality.
Because of the draft pick implications heading into the game against the Phoenix Suns, my hopes for the game were for it to be extremely competitive and for the Wolves to protect their draft pick lives. Losing to the Suns was going to all but guarantee they keep the pick, assuming the Suns don’t come through on the 1.8% chance of landing a top 3 pick on the night of the lottery (that’s also assuming they don’t make the playoffs). The Suns making the playoffs altogether would actually be ideal because the Wolves would almost certainly keep the pick.
What I wanted out of Sunday’s game happened.
I’ve stated it before but I don’t want the Wolves to tank. I just want them to make sure they keep their pick and I’d love for them to finish at least with a .500 record so we can snap a streak of losing seasons. Granted, that’s not exactly a true moral victory by any means, but as we all know it sucks rooting for a losing team year in and year out, and that’s at least something that can realistically be stopped in the final 14 games of the season.
In the process, I want the team to play well, I want Kevin Love to continue being an awesome star player, and I’d love for Ricky Rubio to play extremely well the rest of the season. As of right now, it looks like I’m going to get my wish. Love has been spectacular all season and Sunday against the Suns he was great once again. Aside from a few coverage gaps on pick-and-pops against Phoenix, I thought his defense was good in the game. He was absurd on offense up until the final moments of the game when he struggled to keep his offensive play going and the team just couldn’t make enough shots.
He finished with 36-14-9 and a +3 on the game. Such is life for Love this season.
Rubio was ridiculous against Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Dragic is always a tough matchup for Rubio, but with Bledsoe in the lineup, Rubio started out on him, got him into early foul trouble, and then moved to Dragic. It seems like an insignificant thing, but I really feel like it helped get Rubio’s head in the game properly, as he attacked early and often, which we’ve seen out of him as of late. All of the talk about Rubio not showing any improvements this year is officially wrong.
Since January 1st, Rubio has played in 37 games. During this time, his shooting percentage is 41.2% and his 3-point percentage is 38.5%. While he’s not exactly John Stockton right now, these are remarkable improvements from Rubio on the floor and exactly the kind of play that can boost his play moving forward. He’s no longer a scoring liability. While he doesn’t score often, he does have a good chance of putting points on the board when he gets a chance, and he proved that in his 19-point effort against a really good backcourt.
He also gave us one pass that I simply didn’t know how to describe. It wasn’t something we’ve never seen before out of a point guard, but it was something that in the moment left me audibly exclaiming, “Oh my god!” with William Bohl in the media row as we tried to figure out exactly what we saw. The television angle doesn’t do it justice the way our vantage point showed us.
Would you like a closeup of this pass? It will give you the grainy, European highlight footage appeal we used to rely on when it came to Rubio’s incredible plays in Spain, almost a throwback of what dazzled us for years before he suited up for this franchise.
Now check it out with the view moved a little up so you can see me being super professional, as I react to the pass and William covers his mouth as he yells.
This play was just so damn fun to see in person.
Aside from the two young stars of this team (in different senses of the word, mind you) playing extremely well against a good Western Conference team, this loss certainly had its frustrations. The Wolves had a huge lead at one point, after setting the tone and destroying in the first quarter. The Suns acclimated themselves to what the game situation was over the course of the next three quarters, and took advantage of an underperforming bench unit once again to erase a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and walking away with a much-needed road victory.
The Wolves sorely missed Nikola Pekovic in this game. His absence meant the Suns could gamble by going small and when they did it in the fourth quarter, their spacing on the floor left them a lot of room to get shots off and beat the Wolves’ defense. Even when the defense of the Wolves was good, the Suns had better offense, possibly beaming from confidence of staying in this game and executing a late rally to steal the victory. The Wolves could have gone with Gorgui Dieng over Dante Cunningham, but you’d had risked him defending the perimeter or sinking in to protect the rim and leaving open 3-pointers instead of mildly contested shots at the rim.
The fans who have decided that Rick Adelman doesn’t know anything about basketball will tell you the Wolves win this game with Gorgui playing in the fourth. I honestly have no opinion on the decision because it would have presented a different set of problems for the Wolves to solve defensively. I would have been fine with either decision because either decision should have been good enough to win. The Wolves just didn’t get it done.
The reason I’m fine with the outcome of the game and not frustrated is because of my re-calibrated expectations of what I want the rest of the season. Top players to play like top players. Fun basketball that results in competitive games. Don’t finish below .500 once the final game is over. Do the best you can to accomplish all of this while securing the first round pick. I’m not asking anybody to join me on this. We all decide to get different things out of this season or even the rest of this season, and what’s right for me as a fan doesn’t have to be right for you, and vice-versa.
Technically, I got everything I wanted out of Sunday’s game because of this. But I’m not sure it’s an actual way to live or root for sports. I’d love for the Wolves to still be in the playoff hunt, but I can compartmentalize the improvements made this season while hoping for tweaks to an existing plan that I still believe in heading into next season.
It’s the best of both worlds when you once again find yourself in the middle of a basketball zombie wasteland. I guess…