Did you even watch this game?
There were several reasons why you probably didn’t. For one, Fox Sports North didn’t televise it, even though its broadcast team was already in Florida, having covered Friday night’s victory over the Miami Heat. So, unless you’ve got League Pass, you were out of luck. Secondly, it’d be tough to blame you for skipping out once you heard the litany of players who’d be unavailable for the Wolves: Kevin Love (back spasms), Kevin Martin (ankle), Shabazz Muhammad (knee) and Nikola Pekovic (ankle). The injuries, plus the release of A.J. Price on Thursday, left Minnesota with 10 available players, one of whom was Alexey Shved, so really, the number was more like 9. Last, and not least, the Final Four was going on, and both of its games were wildly entertaining, so it’d be understandable if that distracted you.
A confession: It distracted me. But I caught the game in the wee hours of Sunday morning on MySynergySports, and here’s what I saw:
- Chase Budinger sprained his ankle getting fouled on a dunk attempt one minute into the game. He didn’t return, but the injury isn’t believed to be too serious. It’d be a big boost for Budinger (and the front office) if he were able to build on Friday night’s terrific effort against Miami before the end of the season; hopefully he’s alright and is back soon.
- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute subbed in for Budinger and wound up playing very well, especially in the opening frame. He scored 8 points in the 1st quarter, ducking into the paint for a quick two shortly after entering the game, and added two other easy baskets on nifty post-ups. His defensive effort was also stellar; the rest of the team’s wings could learn a thing or two from him about moving their feet and bodying offensive players without fouling. From March 16th through April 3rd, LRMAM was a DNP-CD for 4 of the Wolves’ 10 games, compiling a total of 111 minutes during the stretch. He’s been the odd man out in the team’s wing rotation. The past two games, however, he’s clocked more than 54 minutes of floor time, displaying the defensive ability that Minnesota supposedly coveted when they acquired him.
- The Magic’s announcers kept referring to the home team as “Magic Men” and I couldn’t get this out of my head for hours after I got done watching the game:
- Orlando’s play-by-play guy called Alexey Shved “Alexev Shved” and it made me laugh. I don’t know why. If you thought Alexev would get extended run following Budinger’s early exit, you were wrong. Alexev played 8 minutes and scored 1 point on 0-of-4 shooting. He missed two free throws, and his two misses at the rim weren’t even close to going in. Alexev had a rough night. Alexey’s had a rough season.
- Gorgui Dieng had 12 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists in 35 minutes, but what stuck out to me was the fact that he got whistled for traveling, again, on a ball fake-dribble drive sequence. Approximately all* of his turnovers this season are due to plays like that, which seems like something that’ll be fixed over the offseason or next training camp. He’s shown a deft touch on jump shots, converting half (17-34) of his attempts outside of 8 feet. If he cuts down on the unnecessary turnovers and adds the ability to put the ball on the floor, even in a limited capacity, his offensive upside will improve immensely.
- One part of Dieng’s offensive skill set that doesn’t need a ton of improvement is his passing. A nice feed to a cutting Corey Brewer gave the Wolves a 74-61 advantage with just under 4 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. That’s right when it all fell apart.
- For whatever reason, Dieng’s interior defensive presence evaporated late in the 3rd, along with the aforementioned 13 point lead. Minnesota’s offense did its part, going mostly stagnant (0-for-3 from the floor with two turnovers from the 4:00 mark on), but Orlando finally quit shoot midrange jumpers and attacked the paint. Six of Orlando’s final 9 attempts in the 3rd came inside 8 feet, and when they weren’t hitting those, they were hitting threes, and the Magic cut the 13 point lead down to 5 by the end of the quarter.
- With Barea running the offense at the start of the final quarter, ball movement and communication were sorely lacking. I know, I know. By the time Rubio returned with 9:18 to go, the Magic were down just 1 – but the Wolves managed to hold them off, even taking a lead with 4:26 to go on a nifty reverse layup by Ricky.
- After that Ricky layup, Minnesota made just 1 of their final 9 shots and turned the ball over twice. Playing 8-deep, they finally ran out of gas.
- Minnesota got to the line 28 times to Orlando’s 9. They also forced 23 Magic turnovers. Both advantages were negated by the fact that the Magic made 9-of-17 three pointers and the Wolves only made 1-of-15. It was a night of infinite sorrow.
- To sum it up: the shorthanded Wolves put forth a spirited though ultimately unsuccessful effort against a young Magic team at the end of what’s been a long season for each squad. Say what you want about “tanking” in the NBA, about sitting superstars on the second half of a back-to-back – last night’s game meant a lot to the players on the floor, especially for guys who want to prove they belong in the league (Hummel for Minnesota, Dewayne Dedmon for Orlando). It meant a lot guys who want to be part of the solution in each disappointing situation (Mbah a Moute for the Wolves, Harris, O’Quinn, Lamb, and Nicholson for the Magic). It mattered to coaches who want to finish their seasons on the right notes. It mattered to the front offices who have to spend the offseason evaluating what they’ve got in the fold.
Minnesota versus Orlando, lost in the noise of a Saturday night, head-to-head with the Final Four, void of superstar-power, and abandoned by the network that televises them, mattered to a great deal of people.
It mattered, even if you didn’t see it.