2016-17 Season, Game Analysis

Mavericks 98, Timberwolves 87: Laying an egg on a bench

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Laying an egg is an idiom that apparently came from Vaudeville in the late 1800’s, originally, but didn’t really take off until the 1920’s or so. During the stock market crash in 1929, Variety had the first mass usage of this phrase with a headline of “Wall Street Lays an Egg.” Since then, it’s been in the lexicon mostly relating to complete failures and people or groups of people failing to show up in an important situation or performing on a big stage.

I don’t know that I’d classify a Sunday matinee game against the Dallas Mavericks in January as a big stage, but the Minnesota Timberwolves saw their bench lay an egg on Sunday. Maybe the start time being moved up to not battle with Aaron Rodgers ripping the heart out of the Dallas Cowboys had something to do with such a sluggish and unfocused game by the Wolves and their bench. Or maybe this was just regression to the mean after the Wolves won three straight games and played top 5 defense over the last month of the season.

Whatever the reason is for Sunday’s loss, it was just a showing for the team that seems to be making progress. Maybe it means that the progress was just the product of a favorable, home-heavy schedule over the last month and taking the show on the road is a wake-up call for the Wolves. Or maybe it’s just the reminder that no NBA progress is completely linear and sometime you get knocked back a step or two, and sometimes you get knocked to the side when you’re expecting to take a step forward.

Regardless, the egg was laid in Dallas against a Dallas Mavericks team that just isn’t very good. Maybe how bad the Mavs look right now, coupled with the Wolves mostly handling them at home in the recent past in a game they held on to win, factored into the poor effort and focus by the Wolves.

The Mavs started out with a small lineup featuring Seth Curry as the starting shooting guard and Dirk Nowitzki as the only big man. The Mavs showed a zone on the first couple defensive possessions, and it looked like they might get gimmicky with trying to confuse the young Wolves. I wouldn’t say it worked or it didn’t work, but it certainly gave the Wolves a look they’re not used to seeing. Shortly thereafter, the Mavs decided to go zone and get more traditional after Dirk’s first stint on the court.

From there, it was more about grinding out a slow-paced home victory for the Mavs and they took advantage the most when the Wolves’ bench came into the game. Despite Nemanja Bjelica making shots in the first half, the game definitely turned into the control of the Mavs during that second quarter. The same problems we’ve seen with the bench were magnified against Rick Carlisle’s bunch for some reason.

Bjelica played awful defense. Kris Dunn played like a rookie on defense (which had been much better lately) by getting into early foul trouble and not being able to get into the heart of the defense to force decisions on offense. Cole Aldrich just didn’t fit in this game with the Mavs trying to go heavy with mobile big men. Shabazz Muhammad went scoreless in 12 minutes and did nothing to contribute on defense.

Like many fans and analysts, I hoped for more minutes to Brandon Rush, who I think should be an integral part of this rotation off the bench. But he only played three minutes and didn’t manage to have much of an impact in his short stint. He probably should’ve received more minutes than he did, but Thibs also tried to switch things up a bit with a dual point guard lineup in a couple of stretches. They simply didn’t work and Rush was relegated to watching instead of getting another chance to contribute on the court. If I had one quibble with any of the tactics in this game, it was Rush no longer getting an extended chance.

In 64 bench minutes, the Wolves produced 10 points (all by Bjelica and most of those coming in the first half) on 4-of-19 shooting. That doesn’t seem ideal. It was a reminder of just how good Bazz had been before this game and how important it is just to get competent play from the bench on most nights. Because when it doesn’t happen, the Wolves’ starters are asked to be perfect and they certainly weren’t perfect.

Gorgui Dieng had a great third quarter and looked to be part of a charge to take control of the game after halftime before the third quarter petered out. Karl-Anthony Towns had nice numbers but he wasn’t effective establishing himself as the best player like we’d seen over the past week against much tougher match-ups. Andrew Wiggins was great keeping the Wolves afloat early in the game but couldn’t navigate a sea of non-spacing in the second half. Zach LaVine looked rusty in his first game back. Ricky Rubio was too sloppy and a start contrast to the player we saw in the previous three games.

When I was watching the Memphis Grizzlies take on the Golden State Warriors a couple of weeks ago on ESPN, the interview with Grizzlies coach David Fizdale between the first and second quarter stuck with me. Steph Curry went for 17 points on eight shots in the first quarter, and Fizdale was essentially asked about the effort of his veteran group defending the two-time MVP. His answer back to Doris Burke was pretty simple.

“We’ve got too many guys with that selective amnesia right now,” Fizdale said. “Like, ‘Oh that’s my fault.’ Right, if you go under on a pick against Steph Curry, he’s going to shoot. We’ve just got to get our minds into this game and start playing our game.”

The Wolves know what they need to do against these teams. Their 8-8 stretch over the last month coming into this game against the Mavs was fueled by defense instead of mostly offense. When they remained solid within their roles and game plan, they end up having a puncher’s chance of taking the W. But they didn’t seem to have their minds in the game on Sunday. They blew opportunities due to poor spacing. They blew opportunities covering the 3-point line. And they never established their skill levels as overwhelming in either controlling the pace of the game or forcing the issue with their athleticism to get to the free throw line.

It wasn’t just the bench’s fault, but it was magnified by the egg they left in the American Airlines Center. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just the end of a winning streak. Let’s see if they respond by building a new one.

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2 thoughts on “Mavericks 98, Timberwolves 87: Laying an egg on a bench

  1. A turd, indeed. This is just the sort of ‘take care of business’ game that make Wolves fans nervously grit their teeth. And we failed the test miserably. Our commentators were constantly harping on the fact that we had no energy, and they were right. Our guys also kinda sorta forgot how to play basketball correctly.

    You expect a young team to take 2 steps forward and 1 back. That’s how they operate. To begin the season, we didn’t really take steps forward and that was tough. Now we do, but we aren’t going to do it without frequent hiccups. It’s annoying when a bunch of 22 year olds randomly have no energy. It’s annoying when they forget all the stuff they learned during the season randomly in a super winnable game. But, to a degree I understand it and don’t get overly frustrated with it. But when vet coaches do their own version of these kind of things it’s harder to swallow.

    Let me be clear—the reason we didn’t win is not because Rush hardly played. But, it is the coach’s job to put his team in the best position to win. And playing Rush 3 minutes is not doing that. When injury forced Thibs to play Rush it was put out there for all to see—Rush should get minutes. It’s one thing to look at the situation on paper and wonder why we bothered to get the guy to sit at the end of the bench. But to actually see how helpful he is and what he could offer the bench and to see Thibs immediately turn his back on it is galling.

    Which is more mysterious–why Shabazz recently caught fire or why our bench looked so bad tonight? I have to say the Shabazz thing seems more strange. I mean, Thibs refuses to play Rush on the bench and we have Dunn playing all the back up PG minutes. It’s amazing the bench ever played well. Part of why Shabazz thawed from the glacier, in my estimation, is because of some more overlap with Rubio. Shabazz is a totally different player when he plays with Rubio. Lack of a good PG his hurting the bench greatly, but perhaps limits Shabazz more than anyone. These major flaws (Dunn and no Rush and all that brings and doesn’t bring) need to be addressed it we expect guys like Shabazz and Bjelica to have an impact and more generally for the bench to not tank games for us. Staggering can’t do everything for us.

    Dunn looked awful in this game. It’s one thing to make rookie mistakes, and to not put up a flashy box score line, but he just stunk, and all season he’s been mostly dragging down the bench (and team). Will Thibs admit that at some point? Perhaps the first sign of this glacial process was the duo PG lineup with Dunn and Tyus in the 2nd half. Admittedly Jones didn’t play well, but the purpose of bringing in Jones is not to have a tiny shooting guard, but a competent PG and the majority of the possessions at this time were with Dunn playing PG and Jones at SG. Surprise, that didn’t go great. I could almost hear the juicy sound of Minnesota fans’ collective eyes rolling.

    Dunn just has no standout skill to lean on. Every once in a while he can take it to the hole, or make an impressive shot or come up with an impressive play on D, but this is the exception, and the stuff in between is just bad. Today, I noticed how bad his handle looked. He didn’t get punished for it, but at some point it will get exposed. I think in part it is why he hasn’t been the successful driving player that people expected right away. His dribble is really high and kind of sloppy for a PG. And for a guy who basically only plays D at this point he gets beat on that end an awful lot.

    Rubio, like everyone, didn’t play very well in this one. But some of the sets we ran, as well as our spacing really didn’t give Rubio a lot of options in running the offense. It put him in a position where he had to force things, sometimes for very ordinary, contested looks. You just aren’t going to win with the offense laid out like this, no matter how good your PG is playing.

    A lot of this will turn around quickly. The guys will hopefully run the offense better, play with more pep, not forget the fundamentals of team D and so fourth. But our margin for error is slim with some questionable offensive sets, no Rush, no PG Tyus (and lots of Dunn) and forcing Wiggins to be Mr. Go To. There needs to be more flexibility with these things from the coaching staff if we’re going to get out of the basement. I hope that LaVine doesn’t get blamed for this loss. He didn’t play well and he needs to take a page from Rush’s book. Still, we need to play Rush in addition to LaVine, and give LaVine a chance to be successful through guidance and good sets for him. If we use just a little of the energy we spend coddling Wiggins getting LaVine to be the best he can be on this roster, it will pay back large dividends. This will require some faith and patience… and some Rush.

  2. After watching three games that showed how a team can play with smarts, unique style and passion and beat two good teams, yesterday’s matinee was a punch in the gut back to reality. Adding Zack LaVine should have been a welcome addition to the mix, another twenty point scorer, who is trying hard to be better than a third wheel to a playoff team. A rotation of Zack, Andrew and Brandon seemed a perfect solution to the Mavs Zone, but Thibs wanted to go back to the pre Rush Wolves, and so only because his team was hopelessly lost, did he put Rush into the game. He gave Zack and Wiggins the point again and put Ricky and Dunn to the corners. KAT started floating away from the basket, away from the double teams, because everone was standing around instead of finding a soft spot to get a pass. His counters to the Mavs moves were slow and quickly dismissed for his square peg offense and lackluster defense.

    Rick Carlisle out coached Thibs, because he is a coach that adjusts to the game and team he is playing against. His vets were embarrassed in Minny and wanted to show they could win at home against a young team that beat him in the low post last week. Thibs bench, returned to its no help form because they were put in for the minutes they somehow earned and not as a planned counterattack to a different Mavs game plan. Our pups have not seen much zone, and it showed. Sadly, Thibs looked like he was surprised as well.

    My guess is Pop and Doc will have similar plans to throw Thibs a curve too. It may get ugly again for our wolfies.

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