These streets is full with the wolves that starve for the week so they after the weak
In a land full of lambs I am and I’ll be damned if I don’t show my teeth”
-Run the Jewels
The Wolves entered today’s matinee meeting with the Suns 4-21 over their past 25 games, losers of 13 of 14, including 9 in a row since New Year’s Eve. Since Christmas, their offense had been the worst in the NBA, and their once decent defense was now porous. Sam Mitchell faced increased scrutiny as his young team seemingly underperformed given their immense raw talent and potential. People believe the direction of the franchise is trending upward, but the depths of the recent swoon caused that faith to waver and wane.
Know what they needed? They needed to face the Suns. At home.
Just what the doctor ordered.
The Suns entered today’s matinee meeting with the Timberwolves 6-23 over their past 29 games, losers of 12 of 13, including a 9-game losing streak from December 20th to January 3rd. Since Christmas, their defense had been the worst in the NBA, a stunning development given some of their personnel (Tyson Chandler anchored the champion Mavericks in 2011, P.J. Tucker is a plus defender). Jeff Hornacek is making tons of faces like the one pictured above and basically waiting for the axe to fall; the front office has already chopped two of his assistant coaches. People believed the franchise was trending upward back in their fun, surprising run to 48 wins two seasons ago, but bizarre in-fighting and unnecessarily drastic roster upheaval have extinguished all that good will (more on that later).
So the extremely stoppable force (Minnesota) met the easily moved object that has a hard time pretending it gives a shit about anything basketball-related (Phoenix). The Wolves shot 57% from the field, attempted 18 threes (it was just the second time since Christmas they hit that benchmark), got to the line forty (40) freaking times, had seven different players reach double figures in points, shot 78% (25 of 32!) in the paint, and won by 30 points.
The Suns pretended to be standing in cement so a thin old man could practice dribbling and a layup around them:
They didn’t stop Ricky Rubio from shooting the one shot he’s actually good at making, because why bother stopping the ball:
And they sort of just stood around to watch this pretty lob from Andre Miller to Zach LaVine:
Zach LaVine jam from Andre Miller pic.twitter.com/tN94I86zji
— StreetHistory (@streethistory) January 17, 2016
Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns combined to score 50 points on 32 shots. Shabazz Muhammad, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and Kevin Martin all scored double figures off the bench. Tayshaun Prince filled up the stat sheet (by his current standards, anyway) by racking up 6 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal in 26 minutes. Nemanja Bjelica scored 6 points, grabbed 2 boards, dished out 3 assists and was a plus-20 in his 22 minutes. Zach LaVine had a very nice game as well, scoring 11 points, pulling down 3 rebounds, handing out 3 assists and chalking up 4 steals. Adreian Payne also got to play. In short, everything went right for the Wolves and wrong for the Suns.
Phoenix point guard Brandon Knight needed 20 shots to get his 20 points and tallied just 1 assist compared to 6 turnovers. Markieff Morris put up a nice 17-5-3-3 steal line, but generally just looked grouchy and always seemed to commit a foul at just the wrong time. No one else, save Devin Booker, got to double figures for the Suns. They were a train wreck. They are a train wreck. As fun as it was to see the Wolves win big, watching a team play as disinterested and lethargic as the Suns is always sort of awkward.
Interestingly enough, the two teams now have the exact same record: 13-29. If the old Bill Parcells maxim is right, “You are what your record says you are,” then the Wolves and Suns are the same. But it isn’t (in basketball, anyway) and they’re not; Minnesota and Phoenix are very, very different. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are the kinds of prospects teams spend years trying to acquire; they’re firmly rooted in Minneapolis for the foreseeable future. That’s not to mention intriguing prospects on rookie-level or otherwise cheap long-term deals (Shabazz Muhammad, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Nemanja Bjelica). Despite their struggles this season, the arrow points up, even if Sam Mitchell may not be the right man to guide them on their journey.
Everybody on Phoenix’s roster, on the other hand, could be had for a price. They have $58 million committed to a point guard with bad knees (Eric Bledsoe, through 2018-19), $70 million to a guy who plays the same position (Brandon Knight, through 2019-20), and $52 million to a 33 year old center who’s blocking shots, collecting rebounds, and scoring at near career-low rates (Tyson Chandler, through 2018-19). They’ve alienated Markieff Morris, who’d otherwise be a fine asset, but is so publicly fed up that his market has dwindled and the Suns will likely get very little in return for him. Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, and Alex Len seem interesting enough, but that cache of prospects isn’t on the same level as the Wolves’. And despite having a guy who seems like a forward-thinking, intelligent, good developmental coach in Jeff Hornacek, the mixture isn’t working. It’s run its course. The Suns went from surprise darlings to a tragicomic laughingstock in shockingly short order.
The real difference between the two teams, as corny and unquantifiable as it may be, is veteran leadership. Kevin Garnett sets the tone for the Timberwolves. Professor Andre Miller, PHD, as well as Tayshaun Prince, buttress his leadership by providing steady play when called upon and plenty of teaching from the bench. Performances like Sunday’s happen to every team on occasion, but when they become a habit, it’s a problem. Phoenix has bad habits and no desire to change them, it seems. That shit wouldn’t fly in Minnesota, and it has very little to do with coaching acumen, with all due respect to Sam Mitchell. There’s a much scarier boogeyman in tow to keep the effort up, even on nights when shots don’t fall, and the other team is smarter, more disciplined, and more experienced.
Minnesota, then, would’ve been damned if they hadn’t shown their teeth on Sunday. For one, they’d have Garnett to answer to. And for fans and observers, we’d really start to wonder about the one advantage, the one real selling point this team purports to have: leadership. If the Wolves couldn’t beat this reeling, apathetic Suns team at home, it would’ve been a problem.
But they did, so it isn’t. For now, anyway.
I don’t wanna sound unkind but the sounds I make are the sounds of the hounds that are howlin’
Under you’re bed, I’m here growling
Same time, under the blanket, you’re cowering.