Timberwolves 93, Bobcats 105: Fire and Nice
Over the past week and a half, the Wolves have had three opportunities to get to two games over .500 – a place they haven’t been since before Thanksgiving – and all three times, they’ve laid eggs. Minnesota lost to New York and Toronto at home, and last night, they fell to Charlotte on the road. The Bobcats are a plucky team, now 13-7 over their past 20 games, with a red-hot center (Al Jefferson), a good coach (Steve Clifford) and a roster full of hungry players, but detailing the opponent’s merits following disappointing losses is beginning to get tired.
Rick Adelman, employing both diplomacy and rationalization, is fond of speaking well of the opposition in his post-game pressers, which is somewhat expected, yet tiresome all the same. No salvos are fired inward, no matter how warranted they may be. Kevin Love had some sharp words for J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham awhile back, but that was the closest thing we’ve had to a fiery, public confrontation. When it comes to addressing his own team, it’s impossible to know what happens behind closed doors, but Adelman’s content to offer simple platitudes, rather than strongly worded criticism, through the media. Last night was no exception:
“They’ve got to play. The season’s still there, playoffs or no playoffs. You’ve got to play. You’ve got to finish the year out and you’ve got to compete. Next game, we’ve got to come out and try to win.”
Fortunately, I am bound by no such diplomatic fanfare. There are plenty of reasons why the Timberwolves have lost as many as they’ve won, and last night had a little bit of everything.
1. Kevin Love’s shoulders are sagging from the weight of the load.
Postgame, he spoke about his fatigue, having played 42 and 40 minutes in the Wolves’ previous two games, respectively, and last night he looked gassed. He played 31 of the first 36 minutes in the game, starting strong, scoring 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the first half. After the break, however, Love missed all 7 of his shots from the field and failed to get to the free throw line. He became a jump shooter, failing to capitalize on the post-ups, putbacks and catch-and-shoot threes that contribute to his success.
2. Nikola Pekovic is nicked up.
The big man’s ankle issues flared up again, leaving Pek lumbering up and down the floor and unable to finish post moves. He exited early in the 3rd quarter and was replaced by Gorgui Dieng, and Al Jefferson’s appetite for the Wolves’ rookie could not be satiated. It was a tough assignment for Dieng, guarding the man with (perhaps) the most polished post game in the league, and Big Al had a feast, scoring 13 3rd quarter points on his way to a 25 point, 16 rebound performance. Pek’s absence left Minnesota woefully shorthanded inside. Speaking of which…
3. The rotations were all out of whack.
The second unit was terrible, again, partially by design, and partially due to execution. The Wolves opened the 2nd quarter with a lineup of Barea – Budinger – Muhammad – Mbah a Moute – Cunningham. Huh? The Wolves’ lack of interior presence allowed the Bobcats to drive into the paint, because there was no big fellow in a black shirt to deter them, and once inside, were able to finish or kick it to open shooters on the perimeter. Adelman’s reluctance to match Dieng up with Al Jefferson (until Pek’s injury forced his hand) was understandable, but the Bobcats’ big man for this run was Bismack Biyombo, who Dieng could’ve probably handled.
A sequence from the 8:00 to 7:27 mark of the 2nd quarter was the turning point of the game. It started with Luke Ridnour hitting one of his patented 17 foot midrange jumpers, extending the Bobcats’ lead to 6. Up to this point, the Wolves’ bench had been treading water, but this is where they drowned. Minnesota brought it up the floor, failed to generate even a half-decent look, resulting in J.J. Barea taking a wild scoop shot. Barea grabbed his own miss (great!), was free in the paint (awesome!), but instead of shooting it (what?!?) he attempted a misguided lob to Shabazz Muhammad (why?!?) who missed, leading to a Charlotte fast break (of course), during which time Barea sauntered back to the defensive end leisurely (uh oh), where Gary Neal was standing open behind the three point line (woops!), and suddenly the bad guys led by 9. The Wolves were never within 9 points from that point on.
I like Corey Brewer more than most, and I hate to go all in on calling out one specific player when a loss is (clearly) a team effort, but holy crap, Corey Brewer was awful. Awful. I have pictures.
And one more:
5. Differences in body language.
Ever since you-know-who started talking about body language incessantly, and to the point of absurdity, I’ve tried to avoid the subject. It’s far too subjective for my taste. However, you could tell that the Bobcats genuinely enjoyed playing basketball together, and it was actually sort of refreshing to see a team act that way. On multiple occasions, following both good plays and bad, the cameras caught ‘Cats players, two or three at a time, huddling up, chatting and gesturing around the court, learning each other’s tendencies, getting a feel for what the other prefers in specific situations. Chris Douglas-Roberts seemed especially invested in pumping up his teammates, particularly new addition Gary Neal, who had a terrific night.
It’s not that we’ve seen the opposite of that out of the Wolves – they’ve had no instances of on-court quibbling, really – but the total absence of cohesiveness and chatter is a bit troubling. Ronny Turiaf really, really tries to foster that, but he’s been hurt so often it hasn’t taken hold. I have no idea who to pin it on, and I’m not convinced a single person could be blamed for such a thing, but whatever it is, whether it’s swagger or ubuntu or chemistry, the Wolves don’t have it.
Not that such a thing could help you win games. It seems like a byproduct of winning, rather than a cause. At any rate, it’d be nice to see some signs of life out of the Wolves to close the season. A little bit of fire, or a little bit of nice, either one would do the trick.