Wolves 112, Bulls 105: Things that are working


The Wolves have won 2 games in a row for the first time since December.

In a season with story lines mostly of the negative variety, last night’s game was one where the big-picture narratives mostly stayed in a positive light.

The most constant of these, of course, is the look into Karl-Anthony Towns’ rookie year and the bewilderment that typically follows. He’s having a historic rookie season, putting up first-year numbers that get him mentioned with names like O’Neal, Olajuwon, and Duncan.

Last night, he kept it up, putting up 26 points, 17 rebounds and 3 blocks in 40 minutes of action. Keep in mind, this is 2 points short of his season high against the Bulls this year (he dropped 28 the second game of his career).

The most interesting thing may have been the way he played off of Gorgui Dieng, who had his best game of the season, and may his career. Sam Mitchell was very complimentary of the way the two of them played together, and the level of chemistry they’re starting to build.

“I think Karl and [Gorgui] together, 50 points and 30 rebounds, those two guys are just… they play so well together,” Mitchell said after the game. ¬†“Gorgui is passing the ball, he’s scoring, he’s rebounding, he’s anchoring our defense and he’s teaching Karl along the way and it allows Karl to make some mistakes defensively that don’t really hurt us because Gorgui is behind him.”

That was an interesting take, because it often seemed like Towns was the one bailing out the defense, but there were certainly takes on screens in last night’s game where Mitchell’s point was true.

But as a whole, in the duo’s 450 minutes on the floor together, the Wolves actually post a worse defensive rating (108.5) than they do an offensive rating. If you look at just the last month, where the chemistry has supposedly developed, the rating actually gets worse (109.7).

At any rate,¬†last night was an outlier. The two of them covered each other’s asses, and played some great basketball against a very skilled Bulls frontcourt.

Like the KAT/Dieng duo inside, certain metrics suggest Andrew Wiggins has a lot to work on. He’s struggled to put together “complete” games statistically this year, aka in the rebounds/assists department, despite his frequent handling of the ball.

But overall, it’s always important to see the big picture with Wiggins, and to remember the things that are working are just as noticeable.

Last night, he started off 0-4 from the field. But instead of caving and letting the bad start get him down, he made 8 of his final 13 shots, hit 5-6 free throws, and had 6 key points down the stretch of a very close game.

Making shots in clutch moments have happened sporadically all season, including each of the past 2 nights. If this keeps up, and continues to turn into a good perimeter defender (he guarded, and subsequently shut down Derrick Rose in the game’s final minutes), it will become easier for him to then work on other parts of his game. It’s good to see, in the time being, that other things are working right now.

What hasn’t always worked with just about anyone this year has been Mitchell’s rotations, especially as it pertains to the use of Zach LaVine. But, to Mitchell’s credit, LaVine has come off the bench, first, in replacement of Tayshaun Prince the last two games.

Yes, he’s playing shooting guard WITH Ricky Rubio on the floor, in the first quarter of games.

Mitchell said he’s wanted to get LaVine time with Rubio early in games, but this is really the first time we’ve seen this on any sort of consistent basis all year. The discussion of Prince’s value as a starter has been a discussion more than once, but I’m okay with LaVine off the bench. Prince remains a plus player on the floor, and as long as LaVine/Shabazz continue to get bigger minutes and finish games, there isn’t any harm in some defensive stability to start the game.

It’s crazy how “stable” a 2-game win streak feels right now in Minnesota, but there are good things coming with it. Towns remains in his “holy crap he’s only 20” mode, all while learning to play with Gorgui Dieng. Wiggins is scoring more efficiently and finishing games in big, important ways. Zach LaVine is finally being used correctly. Of course, it’s much easier to find the things that are going right when the team is winning. With that, how all this stands for the remainder of the season is just as interesting as what’s happening right now.

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4 Responsesso far.

  1. sportsbygreg says:

    Great win. The combination of Towns and Dieng is really starting to click. It’s obvious the Wolves are a more lethal team when they are getting production out of the power forward position in points, rebounds and surprisingly assists… at least last night. And then you throw in the big minutes of Zach LaVine at the two to go alongside Rubio and it just gives the Wolves more firepower on the floor and it keeps the opposing defense off balance because they can’t just key in on Wiggins and Towns. Granted, it’s only a two game winning streak and I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but this has been part of my frustration all year with this team because of Sam’s reluctance to play certain combinations more minutes, and it was obvious it was hindering the team’s chances of more wins. Maybe my expectations were a bit to high in thinking they could be an 8th seed this year, but I was basing it off of the eye test of whenever they are clicking they can play with anyone, with the exception of three or four obvious teams. But it is what it is and if the last two games are any indication of Sam figuring it out I’ll take it. With the West being down at the bottom end of the conference, just thought way too many of the constant abundance of losses were a bit of them underachieving, even though they only had 16 victories last year. But even though the core is young and the right mix of vets(ability wise at this point), kind of thought last year was somewhat of an abberation because the team was ravaged by injuries. Obviously a playoff berth is out of the question, so I’ve lowered my expectations and would just like to see the team continue to gel and develop winning habits. Damn that losing as much as possible to get better lottery positioning. What’s meant to happen is going to happen. To your point on Wiggins-yep, he struggles to fill the statistical sheet, but his rebounding woes is strictly about a lack of effort and not feeling the importance to do so…in my opinion. He’s still my favorite player in the league and I have noticed his clutch ability to put the ball in the hole in crunch time. He’s been fairly consistent in that category. I think the sky is the limit for he, Towns and LaVine. Dieng is already 26 years old so his prime years should be the next four to five years, and if he can keep developing his basketball IQ as well as consistency in his game, along with a nice high lottery pick this year and a couple capable vets as significant role players, the Wolves will finally and Indeed be a team to reckon with more sooner than later.

  2. finchy74 says:

    What a gratifying win after a grind it out second half. I’ve already seen some people online complaining that if it weren’t for Lavine’s poor shooting in the 2nd half, the game would have had little drama. But 20 year olds tend to do that.

    What made this win special was that this wasn’t a situation where the Wolves were playing a good team on a bad night. The Bulls played well and the Wolves managed to match them in execution and intensity in the 2nd half. At one point I remember the Bulls managed to get up by 5 with about 4 minutes left and my wife said to me “Well, it was fun while it lasted.” It was very easy to feel like the Wolves had done their best to trade blows with the Wolves, but that the better, more experienced team was finally going to pull away.

    But then the wolves dug in on defense. They made their offensive possessions count on every trip down the court.

    As a side note, if Gorgui maintains this level of play for the rest of the season, I don’t know how the Wolves can afford to let him go. Hopefully we can get him for a reasonable amount of money with enough years where he’ll spend the rest of his prime with the Wolves.

  3. Marshall Andersen DVM says:

    LaVine needs to work on catch and shoot. He needs to get into that habit, as it benefits minnesota in the long run. Too often do I see zach passing up wide open jumpshots to instead dribble into a crowd and turn it over or take a difficult shot. Very happy with his defense lately though.

  4. vicardwm says:

    Interesting statistic to comment on, which I wouldn’t have imagined – Shabazz has the WORST real plus/minus in the entire NBA. He obviously isn’t bad on offense, nor is he bad at rebounding. Is he THAT bad on defense?

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