2013-14 Season

Timberwolves 112, Bucks 101: I Have Seen the Dark Universe Yawning

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors

“I have seen the dark universe yawning

Where the black planets roll without aim,

Where they roll in their horror unheeded,

Without knowledge, lustre or name.”

– H.P. Lovecraft

If the lowly Bucks, owners of the worst record in basketball (now 13-51), didn’t have the Timberwolves’ full attention prior to tip-off, they certainly did when their 12th consecutive shot found the bottom of the net to start the game. By the midway point of the first quarter, each of Milwaukee’s five starters had recorded a field goal and the team held a nine-point advantage. Guards Nate Wolters and Brandon Knight led the charge – between the two of them, they were responsible for the Bucks’ first seven buckets. Center Zaza Pachulia had 4 1st quarter assists, en route to 10 for the night (a career high).

Fortunes turned, volleys ceased, the tide abated – after all, the team with the league’s 4th-worst Offensive Rating and 6th-worst True Shooting percentage wasn’t going to shoot at a 71% clip (as the Bucks did in the opening quarter) all night long. But for awhile, things were very strange inside 600 1st Avenue, North, and even stranger things spurred the Wolves’ comeback victory.

Despite the Bucks’ hot start, despite being outshot from the floor, free throw line and perimeter in the first half, the Wolves trailed by just 6 at the break. Why? For the most part, J.J. Barea was the good version of himself (maybe even the best possible version of himself) in the 1st half, as opposed to the evil clone we’ve been accustomed to seeing lately. He entered the game having made 13 of 57 field goal attempts over the Wolves’ previous six contests; yet, true to his polarizing nature, he came out on fire, knocking down his first 6 shots en route to 17 first half points (and 19 overall).

He was helped by playing alongside Ricky Rubio, a lineup luxury afforded to Rick Adelman due to Milwaukee’s tendency to play 2 point guards at the same time. When J.J. shares the floor with another point guard, particularly Rubio, his PER is 47,023 points higher* than when he’s tasked with running the offense by himself (*I made that up, but you get the point). Free to roam, and cut, and feed off the chaos created by another ball handler, Barea can attack without worrying about involving others. It’s happened very infrequently – Barea’s shared the floor with Hummel, Turiaf and Budinger more than he has with Rubio this season – and seeing it was a refreshing sight.

Also strange: Kevin Martin was dominant in the second half of this one, scoring 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the 3rd quarter to spark the Wolves’ 31 point outburst. For the season, Martin shoots 45/40/90 in the 1st halves of games, and drops to 40/36/86 after the break. Is it his age? Perhaps that’s part of it, but his second half field goal percentage has been 4 or more percentage points worse than the first half in each of the past four seasons. Like Barea, Kevin Martin reversed a trend – for whatever reason – and it was important to the Wolves’ win.

We’ve seen Minnesota destroy weaker Eastern Conference foes this season – Detroit and Charlotte by 27, Cleveland by 29, Brooklyn by 30, Philadelphia by 31 – but on this four game home stand, against the dregs of the East, it wasn’t a cakewalk. The Wolves fell to the Knicks, had a tough time slamming the door shut on the Pistons, lost to the (clearly superior) Toronto Raptors, and allowed the Bucks (on the second night of a home-road back-to-back) to be within 2 points entering the final quarter of play.

It’s a somewhat disappointing stretch for a team that’s fighting for their playoff lives. Minnesota’s failure to capitalize on the recent favorable schedule hearkens back to their failure to do so earlier in the season, as well; for every blowout win, there are losses that make you shake your head. Such is the fate of a .500ish team.

One important thing to remember about fate: it could always be much, much worse. O.J. Mayo, who the Timberwolves once drafted 3rd overall (and traded away for Kevin Love), has now played 7:01 over Milwaukee’s past four games, including a one-game suspension for sucker-punching Greg Stiemsma and was a healthy scratch Tuesday in Minnesota. The Bucks’ other healthy scratch was Ersan Ilyasova, who recently served a suspension for a sucker punch of his own. Milwaukee’s healthy DNP-CD’s are owed a combined $31.8 million through the end of the 2015-16 season.

Think that’s bad? It gets worse for our dear friends to the east. Larry Sanders, whose 4 year, $44 million extension hasn’t even begun yet, also has problems when it comes to punching people (and keeping his footing on dance floors, apparently). Giannis Antetokounmpo, hyped as a culture-transforming franchise savior, may only ever become a very good role player. And everyone’s cool airing their dirty laundry through the press. Dysfunctional? Yes. Heartbreaking? Absolutely. Hopeless? Sure as hell feels like it.

Maybe it’s silly to draw parallels between the situations in Minnesota and Milwaukee, but for about 12 hours on draft night, 2008, it looked as though the Wolves’ future would be built around O.J. Mayo instead of Kevin Love. Nowadays, Mayo’s feuding with his bosses and can’t get on the floor, and Love’s one of the best players in the NBA.

The victory over the Bucks gave the Wolves 32 victories, more than they’ve had in any season since Kevin Garnett was still around (way back in 2006-07). At this point of the season, the significance of individual games gives way to what they mean for the playoff race. Minnesota got the win; file it away, and look ahead to the next one.

The postseason is still a long shot, and for many people, that means the season is a failure, and that’s okay, though it’s important to keep some perspective. Occasionally, the schedule affords us opportunities to look into the dark universe, to see what may have been. Kevin McHale once dealt away a hot shooting guard prospect for a chunky power forward from UCLA, and six years later, every Minnesota hoops fan is better off for it.

Whatever happens the rest of this season, as hopeless as you may get about the prospect of Kevin Love bolting, and as annoying as this summer is going to be (especially when it comes to speculative nonsense), just remember: the Wolves are not the Bucks, rolling without aim, rolling in horror unheeded, without knowledge, lustre or name.

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0 thoughts on “Timberwolves 112, Bucks 101: I Have Seen the Dark Universe Yawning

  1. I think the argument people could make is not that there aren’t teams in a worse condition presently, but rather the trajectories are different over the next 3 years or so.

    Maybe Milwaukee isn’t a good example of that, but Philly, Orlando or New Orleans might be.

    You could believe the Kevin Love version of the Wolves peaks at a 7th/8th seed next year, then Love leaves/forces a move to LA KnickerMavs or whatever… We get pennies on the dollar in trade or cap space to lure a second tier free agent we have to slightly overpay for.

    Plus, we have to give up some picks at some point, next year is top 12 protected (one reason KLove might be traded early) and then it reverts to two second-rounders in ’16 & ’17 (I think.)

    Maybe that doesn’t happen… but I wonder which is more likely to happen, the ultimate pessimist outcome or the ideal outcome? Is Bazz going to turn into an alpha-dog scorer? Will a defensive big fall in our laps somehow? Can we find dependable bench scoring? Will Rubio continue to improve and even-out some inconsistencies?

  2. My first real look at the Greek Freak . . . what’s all the fuss about? I understand he is raw, but that doesn’t mean he is going to develop. Am I the only one who thought “hey, it’s the Greek Anthony Randolph”? He looked completely lost out there.

  3. The list of guys who deserve consistent minutes is getting shorter: Love, Rubio, Pek, Martin, and that’s it. Dante lost that distinction last game when he played far enough off of Novak for him to repeatedly burn the Wolves and for his increasing tendency to shoot that unreliable 18-footer early in the shot clock. I thought Brewer was on that list, but for someone who’s supposedly an energy guy/hard worker/glue guy, this play sealed it for me last night: he’s not paying attention to the guy he’s guarding (Middleton, hardly a threat), his guy gets position for the offensive rebound by simply moving closer to the hoop when Corey isn’t looking, and Corey had to foul him on the putback attempt. There’s a lot of unearned entitlement on this team. It’s embarrassing that Love had to play 42 minutes and they had to shorten their bench for this one.

  4. As sometimes disappointing as the season has been due to flashes of brilliance and horrific 4th quarters the key point is are we heading in the right direction?

    “The victory over the Bucks gave the Wolves 32 victories, more than they’ve had in any season since Kevin Garnett was still around (way back in 2006-07).”

    With 19 games to go and the 32 victories intact I can certainly say we are. The key point now is to finish the season above 500, keep the lottery pick and hope this has been enough to show Kevin Love the Kahn Era is over.

  5. If the Wolves don’t make it to the playoffs this year, do they have any chance of keeping Love after next year?

  6. The problem with the pessimistic option and the optimistic option is that most MN fans are too pessimistic with their optimistic options. Did any of us think this is how good Love would become? Did anyone think the cap-strapped Warriors would get the second-best free agent on the market in Iguodala last summer? The most optimistic options aren’t capped with Love staying; they include possibilities like a leap for Rubio, possibly trading expirings this summer to get a good bench player/borderline starter, landing good players in future drafts (1st or 2nd round), and getting good rotation players when they use their mid-level exception.

  7. William, I’m with you that it is nice to remember that things could be much worse. Because they have been ever since KG left. I think some people need to calm down about how this season is unfolding and gain a little perspective in life. I’m a huge T-Wolves fan, but let’s be honest, the writing was on the wall months ago that we would probably miss the playoffs. Do I hope by some miracle we do make it? Absolutely. That is why I’m checking the NBA scoreboard 10 times every evening hoping things swing our way. I just hear so much complaining about coaching, players, trades, ownership, etc and it is getting kind of old. There is a ton of room for disappointment, but this is also the best team we’ve had in many years. We’re one or two pieces away from being very, very good. We can look at that and whine or look at that and be encouraged. I’m gonna choose to be encouraged. (Unless we lose to a crappy team like the Knicks again because if that happens all this positive garbage goes out the window and I’m totally going to lose it! I might even get mad enough to call someone a dolt.)

  8. gjk, it is certainly possible that the Wolves suddenly turn the corner and get good fast. After all it happened with the Pacers two years ago and the Blazers (well, mostly) this season. The Mavs and the Suns have defied all expectations. The Nets looked old and washed up and bound for the lottery for half the season, then get some chemistry going, add a couple of players off the scrap heap like Livingston and Thornton and voila, they’re beating the Heat in Miami and looking legitimately dangerous in the playoffs. And then sometimes teams like the Cavs, Knicks, Bucks or Pistons, which were expected to be at least mediocre, instead turn out to be abjectly horrible (of course, there is another team we could add to this list that has been significantly disappointing this season, but I digress). So in theory I agree there is no reason to think the Wolves couldn’t turn it around unexpectedly next season. It could happen. I don’t think it will because I am a pessimist and you don’t get proven very wrong very often by being a pessimistic Wolves fan, but it could.

    In any event, I certainly agree that this offseason will be very interesting. Or more accurately Flip better make it very interesting or we’re in trouble.

  9. Not to be overly pessimistic again but we’ve all known that the worst case scenario is if the Wolves finish ninth in the West because then they are out of the playoffs and give their #1 pick this year to the Suns. Well, that is looking increasing like a possibility and the team that can make it happen by tanking is . . . the Suns. That isn’t awkward or anything.

  10. Speaking of H.P. Lovecraft, not even the Mad Arab will be able to save the Wolves from the doom that Saunders inflicted upon them by winding up with Shabazz as their ninth choice of the draft. He has condemned them to mediocrity – never sinking too low until the team disintegrates in order to be able to get a good player in the draft, and never rising high enough to be a contender. Meantime, the evil that leaped from the Tombs of the Unknowns is collecting dust on the bench at 7.5 minutes per game and 0.1 assists per game; this after drafting the labeled best player in NCAA basketball and then giving him as a present to the Jazz. With that single move, I threw up my hands and went to ground that is not sterile, and out of the NBA. It is not a league that allows parity unless you have some intelligence in the front office. The Pacers are the poster child for that. The Wolves are the poster child for the opposite. What I foresaw as a certainty has come true. How sad for the team, the fans, and Adelman.

  11. Yeah, the Phoenix thing is awkward. They’re still close enough, though, that I assume tanking isn’t part of their plan, at least for the rest of this month.

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