A long time ago left my home
Just a boy passing twenty
Could you spare a coin and a Christian prayer
My luck has turned against me
-Gillian Welch, “One More Dollar”
I’m a sucker for folk music, so I am leading off this recap of the Wolves’ fifth straight loss with the lovely “One More Dollar” by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, as performed live on The Prairie Home Companion (where my Garrison Keillor fans at?), in an attempt to buoy your spirits and stoke the embers of your parochial fire. Listen to the song. Gorgeous, right?
Know what wasn’t gorgeous? Pretty much everything about Minnesota’s shellacking at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks last night.
I say “pretty much everything” because there were a few positives, almost all of them on the offensive end. Kevin Martin scored 34 points on 17 shots, and without him turning iso opportunities into buckets, it’s likely the Wolves would’ve trailed by 40 like they did the night before against the Pelicans. But they kept the opponent’s maximum lead to 26 (progress!), and Kevin Martin is to thank for that.
Other bright spots: The Wolves’ shooting line on the night was 50/41/83, which is pretty good. Everybody who was available got to play (except for Ronny Turiaf, who probably didn’t mind) so the player participation percentage was 100%, which is the highest percentage there is! Anthony Bennett had a nice night, scoring 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, chipping in 7 boards and 4 assists as well. Corey Brewer needed 14 shots to get his 13 points, but added 6 assists and hustled like a madman the entire night.
Speaking of hustle, Shabazz Muhammad scored 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting, grabbed 4 rebounds (2 offensive) and dished out 2 assists. All of his minutes came in the second half, when things were already well out of hand, but if there’s one thing to say about Shabazz, it’s that he doesn’t give a crap what the score is. He battles for every rebound and takes the fight to his defender, whether it’s on the block or in transition. He must be giving Flip and the rest of the coaching staff something to think about. When he checks in, he’s always ready, and good things usually happen.
That concludes the positive portion of this recap.
Minnesota played the final four and a half games of their long road trip without their best defender (Ricky Rubio), and the final two games without Thad Young, who is at least serviceable at that end. But holy moly, you guys, the Timberwolves’ defense was a record-setting kind of awful against New Orleans and wasn’t much better against Dallas.
The Mavericks tallied 76 – SEVENTY SIX – points in the paint. That’s 38 shots (mathematics!) inside the painted area. That’s one every 1:26 of gameplay. That’s one every third possession or so. That’s… really, really, really bad. Nikola Pekovic isn’t much of a rim protector, which is well understood, but he couldn’t box out Tyson Chandler (7 offensive rebounds) to save his life. Gorgui Dieng, who is supposed to be more of a shot-blocking presence near the restricted area, was slow on rotations and late in recognizing when to help from the weak side. When he was in place, he either didn’t get his hands up, committed a foul, or allowed whoever was driving to slide by for an easy two.
Neither Pek nor Gorgui blocked a shot, and since Maverick shooters found themselves in the paint 50 times, they had plenty of opportunities. Why did they have plenty of opportunities? Because Andrew Wiggins can only guard one person at a time. He did fine when he was matched up with Chandler Parsons (12 points on 12 shots), but that meant Kevin Martin was guarding Monta Ellis, who put up 30 points of his own. When Parsons slid up to power forward in a smaller lineup, Anthony Bennett drew the assignment, and the Wolves’ second-year man was totally unable to keep him out of the paint on drives. Corey Brewer and Mo Williams gambled recklessly. Robbie Hummel was thrown off by early ticky-tack calls (he appeared to be complaining to the refs for the first time in his Wolves career). Zach LaVine got into early foul trouble and never got in a rhythm on either end.
Long before it was a blowout, there were back-to-back-to-back first quarter defensive possessions that were harbingers of what was to come for the Timberwolves:
1. Pek walks away from a three point shooter.
2. Mo Williams gambles, Pek tries to help, Tyson Chandler catches a lob.
3. To pack the paint, or vacate the paint…
It’s tough to reduce an entire basketball game to a few plays, but the three above show the problems that are plaguing the Wolves defensively right now. It’s certainly true that Minnesota doesn’t match up, personnel-wise, with either the Mavericks or the Pelicans. But simple things – containing basic pick and roll action, communicating on the defensive side of the floor, knowing where your help is behind you – aren’t happening. And that’s discouraging to see.
The other way to look at it is that the Wolves are on the end of an insane six game road trip, featuring four playoff teams from last season, two sets of back to backs and a “home” game in Mexico City. The veterans are tired, the rookies are probably getting used to this much condensed travel, and the team’s two best players missed time. They have a few days off to make adjustments and get yelled at by the coaching staff before taking on the slumping Knickerbockers Wednesday night at the Target Center.
While everyone on the roster is a transplant to the Twin Cities, the idea of finally going “home” must’ve been appealing when they boarded the plane last night.
One more dime to show for my day
One more dollar and I’m on my way
When I reach those hills, boys, I’ll never roam
Just one more dollar and I’m going home
– Gillian Welch, “One More Dollar