Pistons 96, Wolves 86: Ups and Downs


Sam Mitchell brought up an interesting point after tonight’s 96-86 loss to the Pistons.

“For us to win a game, we have to play unbelievable defense. I don’t think we’ve won a game this year with our offense.”

I looked back at the Wolves’ 5-8 start to the season; and sure enough, Mitchell was mostly right. With the exception of the win in Atlanta, where the Wolves scored 117 points and shot 57.5 percent, the Wolves haven’t won games on their scoring.

They’ve  scored over 100 points 2 other times among their 5 victories, one in the overtime win at Chicago, and one at Miami (but on 36 percent shooting). In order for the Wolves to win, the Wolves need to play solid defense.

The Wolves did okay defensively tonight on paper, forcing 46 percent shooting from the field, and 21 percent from deep against the Pistons tonight. But that number was much more impressive in the first half, when the Pistons shot 41 percent. A 56 percent second half was triggered by a 30 combined points from Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond in the 2nd half.

Ultimately, the Wolves weren’t able to bring home a win because they couldn’t put together a big lead when the defense was at its best. Karl-Anthony Towns and Ricky had their moments in the first half, but few else were able to contribute when they had a chance to pull away early. Andrew Wiggins shot the ball better in the second half and got to the line plenty, but missed shots on the perimeter (and at the rim) that he’s become accustomed to making this season.

There was some good basketball, again mostly revolving around the Towns. This play was nice.


This was fun, too (and featured a much-anticipated lineup of Rubio/LaVine/Wiggins/Muhammad/Towns).


But for the most part, tonight’s game was ugly, and didn’t feature good offense at any point. When Rubio was out, the offense often didn’t initiate until 10 seconds of standing and dribbling took place. The team didn’t box out, which Drummond and backup Aaron Baynes took full advantage of. And when shots became available for the Wolves, they often didn’t take advantage.

The interior defense left the most to be desired. Drummond, of course, had all of his makes inside. That’s to be expected. What made things difficult was how easily Reggie Jackson attacked the basket in the fourth quarter. He’s the one that put the game away for the Pistons, bursting right by the usually on-point Ricky Rubio, finishing at the rim over and over. These finishes are why the finish of the game wasn’t close.

The home vs. away record is interesting, but is more a matter of execution and finishing than the venue hosting the game. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be on anyone’s minds. With two days off, and finally some time to practice, Mitchell was have time to get the Wolves into shape to get his team in better position to shoot a better percentage.

It’s very hard to win with bad offense, and it can get even tougher when a string of losses gets in your head.

What’s important to remember: everything is fine. The Wolves aren’t in a panic, and ups and downs are to be expected with a team this young. The fact that they’ve been able to put forth so many good defensive sequences this year is a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways. It’s to be expected that games this ugly will arise as they figure it out. This was one of those games. They’re never a good time, but they’ll happen.


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2 Responsesso far.

  1. jmndodge says:

    There is a difficulty brewing… While KG/Prince are playing effective defense -and have the team playing much better D, we only have two primary scoring threats on the floor. Rubio as a play maker has been shooting more that he is comfortable with and also more than the team is comfortable with. Towns scores early – almost impossible to stop him (until he picks up the 2nd foul (usually offensive) as he tries to score against a double team. Wiggins doesn’t find it possible to score much early – as KG/Prince neither shoot or score, Wiggins draws a continual double team. Late in the game – playing with Towns/Bjelica/LaVine/Rubio defenses are forced to cover all 5 players – Ricky off the drive and the others as legitimate scoring threats. Wiggins then has room to drive the lane, and dunk as well as catch and release on open jump shots. It is no longer possible to put both KG/Prince on the floor at the same time. Playing Jones at PG will also help with the distribution – and Payne for all his flaws has to take more of KG’s minutes. While he makes some poor shooting choices – He does drive and shoot – makes enough to force the D to defend him. Bjelica also has to play with more passion on offense – He was assigned the PF spot because he can shoot and pass, he has passed, and played D – his shooting both from the floor and the line has been far less effective than expected. Time for him to pick it up – or for Payne to leapfrog over him in the depth chart. It is difficult to bench you all time best player – the man making all the money – and the face of the organization – but if we play to win some games, it’s time.

  2. pyrrol says:


    I love Sam’s focus on defense–it’s something this franchise has needed for years and we now have personnel to back it up. On the other hand, our offense needs to get better even if our defense continues to improve if we want to compete (which I think we have to do with the talent we have). Bullet tyme:

    -We start two offensive dead ends–Garnett and Prince. Garnett in particular can’t score anymore. How do you loose your 8’1″ release point mid-range jumper touch? I’m not sure, but Garnett’s stroke seems permanently gone. We need to have more offense in the starting lineup just to keep teams honest. I know those two are low minutes, but we can’t keep starting both and maybe playing them this many minutes. Crazy as it sounds, perhaps we need Payne to play more of KG’s minutes, and he can teach his butt off.

    -Bjelica will help–he’s gone through a rough patch. We see a meeting of him not quite getting the officiating in our league, and our officials busting his chops more than American players. Eventually, he’ll learn the style here better, and eventually the refs will show him at least a neutral amount of respect. He’s also banged up, but I suspect we’ll get a lot more offense and rebounding from him soon.

    -LaVine at point really hurts our second unit. Both units have handicaps–1st unit from two non offense starters, and 2nd from LaVine style point guard and chemistry/leadership issues possibly stemming from LaVine at point. I know there have been heated discussions across the Minnesota tundra about whether LaVine is a point guard, a 2 guard, a combo guard, or just a ‘basketball guy,’ but putting all those aside, can we agree that LaVine has, at current state, major issues at point guard? If we can agree on that, is there not a way to play him off the ball a little more by using some Miller in the lineup? Sam has already started an overlap thing where LaVine comes in early off the bench and plays 2 with Rubio. This is a good idea–we need Zach’s offensive skills on the floor and he plays well with Rubio. We need to not be casual about it though—when both are out there Rubio runs point (I’ve seen some possessions where this doesn’t happen). My fantasy it to see LaVine start at 2 and Wiggins at 3 at some point just to see what happens…

    -Rubio is clearly banged up still, although it is great to have him back. I hate to be a whiner, but our schedule has made no sense—we started off hardly playing and recently play so much our guys can’t recover. It’s a major factor in 2-3 of our losses. But Rubio isn’t a super speedy athletic guy, so a Jackson type guy can give him trouble. Still, we saw a slowed Rubio in this game, as well as an interior defense that didn’t have his back. Having Bjelica back will help.

    -Another thing that will help our offense is going to Towns more. Perhaps he’s not quite ready for that workload, but at some point in the season I think we’ll see him with more takes. He’s amazingly versatile, but can punish inside already. Man were those scouts who called his offense raw wrong…

    Lets hope we can get a few wins going here so we don’t go into a confidence black hole. We looked flat against Detroit in a way that scares me a little.

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