Timberwolves 123, Lakers 122: Rooting for the Clothes



When Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant were drafted straight out of high school in 1995 and 1996, respectively, I couldn’t have cared less about professional basketball. I could have told you the Chicago Bulls were good, and that was about it. Five years later, though, and I would count Garnett as one of my top few favorite players in the league alongside Vince Carter and Allen Iverson and count Bryant as one of my most hated following the Lakers’ thrashing of the Sixers in the Finals in 2001. Garnett’s jersey was not the first I ever bought — Shawn Kemp’s Seattle Sonics jersey circa 1995-96 holds that honor — but it was one of the only ones I didn’t buy on sale. I got a Warriors Antawn Jamison and a Suns Amar’e Stoudemire at bargain basement prices; I bought the Garnett because I wanted to identify myself with him.

That’s what jerseys provide: a frame, a lens, a wish. You could see it at the Target Center on Wednesday night, speckled as it was with #24 and #8 (and even some Lower Merion #33) jerseys. With nary a Russell or Randle or Clarkson in sight — my offer of $10 to anyone wearing the jersey of any current Laker not named Kobe went begging — the Target Center crowd wore their aspirations to be associated with greatness once again.

By and large, those Kobe jerseys meant a similar thing to the array of Garnett jerseys, but a very different thing from all the Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins jerseys in the crowd. Bought now, at the beginning of their hopefully long and fruitful careers, it’s getting in on the ground floor — it’s seeing Jimi Hendrix at the Cafe Wha? in 1966, a Led Zeppelin demo tape from 1968. Like so many things in sports, they point toward the future, the thing in itself obscured by what it could become. Wiggins bullying his way into the paint in the game’s closing minutes as he did last night is a sign that he’s willing to take over, that he’s confident. When the ball gets stripped on his spin move into the paint — as it did last night — it tells us his pet move has been scouted, that teams are prepared for it now, and that he has to develop countermoves to his moves if his growth is to continue.

When Towns has a game like he did against the Lakers — 26 points on 11-for-19 shooting, 14 rebounds, a +18 and one pass worthy of Ricky Rubio’s first ebullient year in the league — it says he’s already ahead of the curve that was expected, that he might not just be a solid big to pair with Wiggins but his own star. Every time it happens, a few more jerseys go out the door of the fan shop.

When D’Angelo Russell makes a wild shot to send the game to overtime or sets a new career high (23 points as of last night), more #1s will start showing up (in Los Angeles if not in Minnesota — will be interesting to see what the crowd in the Target Center looks like for Laker games after Bryant retires) as the sea changes slowly away from #24.

For all the individually impressive moments and accomplishments last night — including Rubio’s 5 points, 12 assists, 9 rebounds and +22 — the game itself came out ugly, in spite of the high final score. The best way I can put it is that it looked like two people who are bad at NBA 2K playing against each other on the easiest difficulty. The Lakers are the worst-shooting team in the NBA at 41.3% for the season and they shot 51.6%. The good shots came on defensive breakdowns on both sides of the floor and a lot of bad shots went in because of lackluster individual effort. In the postgame presser, Mitchell explained the way Minnesota played down to Los Angeles by saying, “I think sometimes our players are a victim of what they read in newspapers,” to which the Wolves’ 19 and 20 year olds probably said, “What’s a newspaper?”

For what it’s worth, I remember looking up the NBA’s scoring leader in the newspaper on a daily basis when I was a freshman in highschool and a fan of the Atlanta Hawks. I was gratified to see Dominique Wilkins beating out Michael Jordan, saw it as proof that Wilkins was the superior player. It validated my decision to like Wilkins and the Hawks, just as Kobe’s rings validate the jerseys bought in his prime.

But as the fans filed in last night, I was struck by the way the angle of the tribute inherent in these jerseys of Bryant and Garnett have shifted. There is still that allegiance, a kind of sartorial selfie with stardom, that wearing the jersey has always been. But they’re not pointing toward future games or championships or accomplishments. If they’re pointing ahead, it’s toward a legacy. When it comes to the game itself, they are — for once — stationary in the moment.

When Garnett rose up on the break and stuffed the entirety of the 13 year difference between his and Blake Griffin’s ages all over Griffin the other night, it wasn’t a new revelation about Garnett’s aggressiveness or development. It wasn’t a sign that this team can compete in the playoffs. It wasn’t a referendum on the rebuilding process. It was just an old man beating back time with a righteous jam.

It’s easy to get swept into concerns about the future and what the Timberwolves are going to be one day. Is Sam Mitchell actually the coach of the future? If not, what future coach can they get who will truly unlock not just the individual potentials of Wiggins, Towns, et al, but their collective talent? What if it never happens? Oh God, what if it never happens?

Calm down. The games will continue to be messy and fraught. They will go to overtime, will be won or lost by one point. They will look like bad video games and be played in front of crowds bedecked in jerseys both home and away, each one of them an investment in the future, the present or a legacy, but all of them a wish.

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4 Responsesso far.

  1. Nick says:

    It was a good game last night. Even though the game was close throughout I never felt like the we wouldn’t win. I have two comments that I would like to address though.

    1. I know it is not his strong suite. But Rubio needs to be more aggressive with his shot. He had some wide open shots coming off the pick and still decided to pass it to the pick man even when his defender stayed with him. If you keep the defenses honest they wont leave you alone and open up some easier passing lanes.

    2. Why are we playing Payne over Rudez. Every time I watch Payne play he looks like the effort is there but he isn’t sure what to do with his hands and feet. Consequentially he fouls a lot. Rudez on the other hand when he has gotten minutes has shown consistency hitting the 3 point shot and reminds me a lot of Bjelica.

    I would love to hear your thoughts Steve or some of the other comments here.

    Thank You

    • gjk says:

      I don’t get using Payne, either. The reason they seem to do it is when they need a bigger body on D than Bjelica; last night, they went after him with Randle (though the refs called at least one on Bjelica that wasn’t a foul). But if that’s the case, just play Dieng more minutes.

      For as much (somewhat deserved) flak as Martin receives, he showed last night what a tail-end-of-his-prime vet can still do; boost a team past losing to a terrible opponent. It’s the difference between “Are we really gonna lose to this team” and “We ARE NOT losing to this team.” Those 17 points in the 4th, at the very least, kept them close enough.

  2. sportsbygreg says:

    Great win. But it was starting to look like it was going to be another moral victory against a team with only three wins. I agree about Payne and his Proness to foul because he can be a bit goofy. I like Rudez as well, but I think Payne will be fine. I mean, let’s at least play one of the two, along with Bjelica. We can use that useful energy at the 4 whomever it may be between the youngsters. I think he only played 5 minutes anyway. Wiggins is my favorite player in the league now that Kobe is on his way out. I honestly believe he is one of the CHOSEN ones a has superstardom written all over him. But I have to play Devils advocate again, only because I care and see so much promise in this young core…0 rebounds bruh? A 6’8 freaky athletic number 1 pick should be able to get that in his sleep. I can go out there and get one rebound. But, seriously, the thing that bothers me about Wiggins is that he just doesn’t seem to care about rebounding, doesn’t seem to be a natural instinct for him at all. I know I may be nitpicking a bit and realize he may have a game or two every now and then when he’ll get 5 or 6 boards, and even got 7 against the Clippers the game before last. But way to often he enters the fourth quarter with only one or two rebounds, sometimes zero. A guy with his talent and athletic ability should be flirting with at least seven or 8 boards a night, especially with the amount of minutes he logs. He needs to become a bit more selfish in that area of his game. Again, what bugs me is that he just doesn’t seem to consistently care about rebounding, because not only does he not consistently attempt to rebound, he rarely puts himself in a rebounding position. I see him way to often let one of his teammates swoop past him and pad their rebound stats. He’s talking about an All-star team… by that time he might just be averaging around 3 boards and literally 0.2 assists. In the words of my fellow alumni and buddy Cris Carter… Come on man! For the entire game last night, up until the last couple minutes, he literally had 0 boards and 0 assists. What All-star team? I know Rubio is the primary ball handler BUT Andrew plays enough minutes and touches the ball enough to get more assists. At this point he just doesn’t make his teammates better like the GREAT ones. I know he’s a special special talent and admire the way he took the reigns last year, but he’s played enough now to be taking the next step in rebounding and assists. If anything give us some consistency rebounding. Go Wolves!

  3. Tom says:

    The only reason you play Paine is to see how your team plays short-handed. He is physically gifted, but the kid can’t play this game. Stromile Swift anyone? I wonder why Sam has such a short leash for Bazz and Belly? Bazz plays so little, he never settles into a more complete game. It seems he wants to score before he is put back on the bench. Belly needs to shoot more, but it seems the team ignores him when he is open so I think he is trying to be unselfish to fit in. Last night was to much one on one and not enough extra passes for Twolves to be proud of effort.

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