Timberwolves 132, Nuggets 128: Doug Moe, stand up!
There are so many possible places to go with this game recap that is never really a recap of the actual game but a rumination about something bigger happening within the construct of the season.
There’s the road trip the Wolves needed to nail and did. Right before the trip, I commented on how the Wolves needed to go at least 3-2 on this trip and preferably go 4-1 in order for them to have an outside chance at still making a playoff run. They managed to go 4-1, with the only loss coming in Portland on the second night of a back-to-back in which the Wolves were still missing their second and third options on offense (yes, the Blazers were missing LaMarcus Aldridge). They closed it out in a tough place (Denver) against a team that was getting healthier for this game. Ty Lawson returned and Wilson Chandler returned, giving the Nuggets a much better attack than we’ve seen in previous weeks.
Successful road trips can be spark plugs for a young-ish core (in this case, one that isn’t terribly experienced) still trying to figure out how to win. After seeing the upcoming schedule for the Wolves, you hope this successful road trip was a bonding experience reminding the players involved that success is possible when they bring the type of energy and execution they’re supposed to, especially against weaker opponents.
And then there are different aspects in the game itself, which scream of the intricacies and curiosities of the NBA game.
The high-scoring nature of this game seemed misleading to me. Maybe I’m wrong because I had an eye on LeBron James dropping 61 points Monday night, but I really felt like the final score of this game was a bit of an aberration. The Wolves shot 64 free throws in the game, which was either indicative of bad defense, happy whistles, or bad defense and happy whistles. The Nuggets ended up with a healthy scoring number of 128 points, thanks to a late flurry of unlikely 3-point shots. The Wolves actually didn’t play bad defense, although they were a little too careful not to foul most possessions and ended up giving a little extra space for the shooter in the process.
By the end of the game, we were left with 260 total points. I’m not trying to pretend the defense was good or even all that decent, but I thought it was worth noting the final score seemed misleading to me. The good news out of the Nuggets’ late flurry is the Wolves found themselves another victory in a game decided by four points or less. They’re now 2-12 on the season.
Other than that, let’s get into some random thoughts about the game and the Wolves in general:
– Kevin Love is good.
– Kevin Love is really freaking good. The month of February is not where his stellar play ends, apparently. He dominated the matchup with Kenneth Faried, which is usually feast or famine for these guys. Looking over the game log of the head-to-head matchup, you almost always see one guy shine while the other gets semi-destroyed. It’s rare these two guys have great or even comparable games against each other. Love had 33-19-4, and the scary/awesome part about it is these numbers don’t even jump out anymore. That’s how good Love has been this season; he’s putting up ridiculous numbers and it just seems routine.
It’s nice that the Wolves are over .500 (more on that in a minute) this late in the season because the detractors can’t use the BS dismissive comment that his numbers don’t lead to wins. This is a good team being led by one of the top players in the league. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, we need to eradicate the poor argument against his production. Check out the gang that has averaged 26 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists in a season. That’s not terrible company to be in. By the way, he’d be the only player in NBA history to average those numbers while also making at least one 3-pointer in a season.
– Speaking of over .500, the last time the Wolves were over .500 in the month of March (non lockout-shortened season) was the 2004-05 season. I know this team hasn’t grown at the pace we’d all like, but we are at least seeing growth from year to year. It would be nice to sprinkle a little Miracle Gro on this franchise but some progress has happened each year.
– This isn’t a highlight for the Wolves but Corey Brewer got YANKED by Ty Lawson during this game.
– Overall, Brewer had a nice game against his former squad. The problem with him gambling is still there and still kills the team a few times a game. This part of his defense is disappointing because he’s cognizant of the gambling. He stated before the season that he was going to have to be more sound on defense on the perimeter because he doesn’t have a shot blocker to cover his backside if he gambles and loses. Other than the game early in the season when he helped shut down Kevin Durant, I’m not sure I’ve walked away from another game this season thinking he played sound defense.
The gambling can result in good things, but he’s not nearly as successful at disrupting a play as Ricky Rubio is and it really hurts when you miss against wing scorers.
– It’s pretty nice to have Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin back in the lineup. There aren’t too many teams that can bang with the combination of Love and Pek, and this Nuggets team is a prime example of that. The Wolves are designed to eat up the majority of the smaller teams in the league with the “Bruise Brothers.” Monday night was a great reminder that this is a beefier team than the nachos Love is trying to kill you with from Taco Bell. They’re just able to control the boards in key stretches with these guys and they’re not liabilities at the line in the process. It’s a great luxury to have.
Martin wasn’t great in this game but he managed to get to the free throw line a ton. That’s what you need to hope for when his shot isn’t falling. He’s not going to contribute in other ways, which is fine for now. If the shot isn’t going, initiate contact and get that 90% stroke to the line.
– Ricky Rubio had a pretty mediocre game, just in terms of impact. I rarely felt like he was able to put his stamp on this game and if Rick Adelman had opted for just Barea running the offense in the fourth quarter, I would have been OK with it. Instead, he ran them both out there together, which I’m also very OK with seeing. Rubio could do more against this Nuggets team and I would have liked to see him try to be more aggressive scoring the ball early. He has that option against Lawson.
– It helps that JJ Barea had a good scoring game but I’m really starting to dig this second unit of JJ, Chase, Bazz, Dante, and Gorgui. If Muhammad can find a way to contribute on offense that isn’t just looking for opportunities on the block and Budinger can knock down open shots, this could actually be a valuable option for a four-minute stretch in each half.
– One final note: the upcoming schedule. So what do we expect to happen during this stretch? We hoped for a 3-2 or 4-1 road trip and they came back with 4-1. Next four games are at home against the Knicks, Pistons, Raptors, and Bucks. The Raptors game seems to be the toughest challenge, although the Knicks and Pistons could randomly get their excrement together on any given night and trick their fans into thinking progress can be had. Ideally, 3-1 would be the floor for this home stand and the team should really be able to go 4-0. After that, they go to Charlotte and then come back home for the Kings. 5-1 in this stretch has to be the floor here as well.
Then we get into the nitty gritty with a must-win game against the Mavericks that starts a stretch which brings Houston, Phoenix, and Memphis showdowns. The only game they can afford to lose there is in Houston. The rest of the games have to be wins. That means we’re asking the Wolves to win eight of the next ten games, which would mean they’ve actually won 14 of 17 in a stretch of the season. Then they’d have games against a battered Hawks team, the Lakers, and the Nets. 17 out of 20?
Is this a team that can win 17 out of 20 games? That’s probably going to be what it takes in order to have a real shot at the playoffs. They’re 4.5 games heading into the Knicks game. 17 out of 20 seems tough, but it’s what has to be done. They still have a very tough stretch in April they’d have to survive. But the next four games will set up the four after that and the three after that. What is this team made of?
Win or lose, I’m excited to find out.