Timberwolves 117, Suns 87: I’ll be damned if I don’t show my teeth

Run the Jewels

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.

Hornacek

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:

Another angle:

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.

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  1. I like Jeff Hornacek a lot. I wonder if he lost the team, or management took it away by peddling away one of the Morris’s and throwing together a bunch a ill fitting pieces. Once Dragic demanded a trade because he did not want to be a SG/SF because he Isn’t I think Management screwed up big time by going after Brandon Knight,

    Then again I have no idea how much say Hornacek had in the build of the team.

    I know Wolves get killed for taking Rubio, Flynn, and Lawson(even though they did not take him). I think it is a greater sin to throw large contracts at Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas. And they even compounded it with Knight(Giving up the ultra valuable Lakers pick on top of the contract). Suns are a dumpster fire, and a bunch of inept moves are being made. Makes me wonder what it would cost to get Devin Booker from there, That is a missing piece we need badly.

  2. Sorry if this post shows up twice, I mistyped my user name so it went to moderation.

    I like Jeff Hornacek a lot. I wonder if he lost the team, or management took it away by peddling away one of the Morris’s and throwing together a bunch a ill fitting pieces. Once Dragic demanded a trade because he did not want to be a SG/SF because he Isn’t I think Management screwed up big time by going after Brandon Knight,

    Then again I have no idea how much say Hornacek had in the build of the team.

    I know Wolves get killed for taking Rubio, Flynn, and Lawson(even though they did not take him). I think it is a greater sin to throw large contracts at Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas. And they even compounded it with Knight(Giving up the ultra valuable Lakers pick on top of the contract). Suns are a dumpster fire, and a bunch of inept moves are being made. Makes me wonder what it would cost to get Devin Booker from there, That is a missing piece we need badly.

  3. You know, every now and again you have to win. Every once in a while you get a game that’s just marked yours. It was our fate to win this big, and boy were the gates open. That said, it’s not a coincidence we did this well playing in a much more viable style. We took 18 threes, most of them good shots, and we took them without shame. The Suns D is horrid, but against this practice-like foe we did at least step up to the plate and open up our offense with ready passing, quick decisions, and enough three point shooting to compete and space well. And the guys actually had FUN! Hopefully the players and coaches notice how well these thing can work, and feel a good boost of positivity and confidence. And I don’t care if it was at someone’s expense, that felt good.

    The Suns weren’t built to last even at the time of their surprise season. But since then they’ve really made a lot of bad choices. They have two expensive, similar, 6’1″ point guards starting (or did before injury), while Morris is a surprisingly effective player, he’s not without many flaws, and Chandler is just too old. With the need to develop Len for the future, I’m not sure why they went out and got an ancient Chandler who depends on bounce…

    Actually, Rubio has been doing well shooting threes. Maybe on percent alone it’s not his best shot, but given that he can hit 3’s, they count for more, and help him more with spacing/pass lanes, well, I get excited when he takes 3’s and call that his best shot. Great to see him driving too. For Rubio, I see a good chunk of threes and drives for his scoring, merely supplemented by pull up mid range type stuff. Weird to see him not get assists in a good game for us, but he was scoring and everyone was passing.

    Yes we have the same record as the Suns. Are we the same? No. So, having the same (real bad) record as the Suns… Well, I see it as a source of shame and it better change by the end of the season.

    We can be cheerful that the Wolves did what they needed to for a day and in a very fun manner.

  4. About damn time. I was starting to think it was gonna be Spring before they won another freaking game. Even though it was the Suns, I’ll take it anyway I can get it. Now, Steve, will you please send them a memo and tell them it’s okay to win two or three in a row for a change. This season is far from over.

  5. Nice to see the bench extend the lead in the 4th. It looks like Bjelly and Bazz have a nice chemistry in that unit. They made a mistake having Bjelly guard Morris, though. He’s decent at help defense but truly awful at guarding one-on-one without fouling. They have enough depth to avoid that situation if they choose.

  6. Very pleased with Wiggs’ development in his court vision and distribution, thats a step he had to take if he wants to get to the next level. Now I want to see Wiggs develop his defense and defensive BBIQ, thats an area where he could really take advantage of his athleticism, maybe a few more steals a game? he should be working towards perfecting every facet of his game.

  7. Just out of curiosity, does anyone here think that Hornacek would be a real possibility to replace Sam if he gets fired by the suns? (Looking more like a matter of when than if at this point.) I like him as a coach and i don’t really think much of what is going on with the suns is on him. What do you guys think?

    • I’d be up for that, but I don’t know if he’s going to be on the team’s radar. I have zero doubt that Hornacek will get another shot as a coach, though.