2014-15 Season

Hornets 109, Timberwolves 98: Back from Somewhere

Now you look like you just got back from somewhere
Somewhere yeah you know that it’s true
Together we went nearly to nowhere
Nowhere really worth going to
Standing at the city center
In the middle of the winter

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When the Timberwolves traded Mo Williams in February, most Wolves fans appreciated what he had done in the tough spot he was forced into, upon the ankle injury to Ricky Rubio. Nobody will look back at Mo Williams with any level of ill will down the road, even if he had his share of questionable shots throughout the first half of the 2014-15 season.

Still, when Williams was traded, slight objection was the most negative feeling attached to his departure. While he showed his value (for good and, at times, for bad), his 1-year deal, his age, and the return (and obvious mainstay) of Ricky Rubio made Williams’ time in Minnesota an obvious rental.

In Charlotte, Williams has averaged 19 and 7 since the trade, and even has a recent player of the week award under his belt. Tonight, he made his return to Minnesota, where he and fellow former Wolf Al Jefferson (whose departure brought many, many more of the feels) saw a polite applause from the Target Center crowd.

But, despite nice play from both Williams and Jefferson, the Wolves didn’t lose the game because of their former employees. The Wolves lost because of terrible play defensively in the paint, along 13 turnovers, mostly from the team’s primary ball handlers.

The Wolves, still stuck with a ridiculously limited set of rotations options, lost the battle in the paint 52-22. Gorgui Dieng struggled to protect the rim, but the Wolves perimeter defenders themselves were equally at-fault, showcasing their version of (as Kent Youngblood put it) the Red Sea defense. This Gerald Henderson dunk is one of several examples from tonight.

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The turnovers didn’t help, either. Between Zach LaVine and Gary Neal (who left the game in the second half with an ankle injury…on the other ankle. Get well soon, Gary), a combined 9 turnovers were compiled between two of the current rotation’s primary ball handlers. Several sets were broken down off of those turnovers, and the Hornets made them pay on the other end.

If there was any one good point for the Wolves, it was the continued success of Chase Budinger, who was forced to play the power forward (and guard power forwards, which could help further explain the points in the paint). He played well on the baseline, putting together a few nice plays on the baseline that reminded me a bit of something Andrei Kirilenko might have done in a Wolves uniform.

Where he’s shown the most improvement since the beginning of the year is his ability to finish, especially on the break. Tonight, Budinger shot 4-5, and finished plays fans had no faith in him finishing in December.

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The bench as a whole shot the ball well, but the starting lineup did not. Ultimately, their inability to finish shots made it nearly impossible to get the Wolves to complete the comeback (note: the Wolves had given up a double digit lead themselves early in the game).

After the game, Gary Neal said he didn’t have any extra incentive to have a good game against his former team. On the same note, it’s unclear what Mo Williams (and Al Jefferson) felt coming back to the Target Center. His time in Minnesota was short-lived, but Mo is used to coming into arenas as a team’s former player.

But Mo, as well as he played, wasn’t the reason the Hornets won. With storylines like this, it rarely is.

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