Wolves 129, Nets 109: An Easy Win is a Good Win
According to nba.com/stats, the Brooklyn Nets have the league’s 28th ranked offense and 29th ranked defense. I guess it’s no surprise, then, that they also hold (by far) the league’s worst record. After losing by 20 to the Timberwolves last night at Target Center, the Nets fell to 9-38. The next-worst team (Phoenix Suns) has 15 wins.
The obvious consolation prize for being so bad is the opportunity to draft a great prospect. Only the Nets don’t have that either. Back in July 2013, Brooklyn traded for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, a couple of first-ballot Hall of Famers. That would’ve been great except for the small matters of their ages — 35 and 37 at the time of the deal, respectively — and the cost: the Nets conveyed their first round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018. And just to clinch this as the “Herschel Walker Trade” of the NBA, Brooklyn also gave Boston the right to swap first-round picks in 2017.
So, despite having the league’s worst record and being on track for one of the top picks in what many predict to be a superstar-heavy draft, the Nets will instead draft wherever the Celtics fall. If the season ended today, that would be 24th overall.
After the trade, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said that, “the basketball gods smiled on the Nets.”
This background doesn’t have a lot to do with last night’s game, but the Nets are just in a pretty hopeless place right now and the Wolves beating them is much less of a story than if they had lost the game. Coming into last night, the Nets had lost 15 of their last 16. (To be fair, the Wolves did lose at Brooklyn earlier this season.) To the Wolves’ credit, they took care of business and did enough things to make sure this game was not close down the stretch. They led by 8 at halftime and by double digits for most of the second half, eventually winning by an even 20 points.
Karl-Anthony Towns led the way with a loaded stat line: 37 points (15-26 shooting), 13 rebounds and 4 blocks. Apparently he was under the weather, which I suppose makes it a little bit more impressive. After the game Thibs praised KAT for making quicker decisions with the ball. Frankly, I didn’t really see that happening in last night’s game — he held it too long on quite a few post-ups — but he undeniably had a great game based on that type of production and his +/- of (+17). KAT was 2-3 from downtown last night. One of those came on an Andrew Wiggins pick-and-roll where he kicked it back to KAT for three. Since just about every Wig & KAT PnR seems to end with a Wiggins pull-up jumper, I found that to be a refreshing change up. Those two need to develop better chemistry over the next few years, so that the offense can be focused around its greatest talent, and whatever role players on the floor can take the easy, open shots that ensue.
This was a strange Ricky Rubio game. He got into early foul trouble after taking an intentional (small i) foul to stop a Nets 5-on-4 break in the opening minutes and then committing a stupid reach foul after he re-entered the game in the second quarter for his third personal. Then after sitting for a lot of the game, Ricky came out as Fourth Quarter Scorer Guy toward the end of the game, racking up 10 points in the final period. He ended the night with 14 points and 6 assists in 22 minutes of (+8) basketball. In his absence Kris Dunn had a relatively good game. His defense was tenacious all night, and he didn’t make many mistakes on offense. Barely taking any shots (2; he made 1) Dunn racked up 7 assists and just a single turnover. He was (+12).
Wiggins had 23 points and 4 assists, and led the team in +/- (+21).
This is very eye-testy, but it seemed like Zach LaVine was getting after it, defensively, more than he normally does. LaVine plays with the smoothness of a seasoned veteran. It shows up in his pure shooting stroke, but also in little things like his stride down the floor that is reminiscent of Kobe Bryant (who, in turn, seemed to mimic Michael Jordan’s movements to an almost creepy degree). The problem with LaVine’s advanced smoothness is that he rarely does the intense, gritty things that superstars inevitably have to do in order to reach that level of legitimate “cool” on the basketball floor. Last night, in the second half, LaVine was mixing it up more than I remember seeing, going hard after an opponent’s dribble and just generally appearing tougher. He mentioned a while back on Tom Thibodeau’s birthday that he figured his coach would consider it a good present if he played some good defense. This seems to be on his mind, possibly for the first time in his career.
This is something to keep an eye on, because whether and to what extent LaVine becomes a two-way player is a major storyline that will shape this team’s future. Last night, Zach had 20 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals.
There isn’t a whole lot else to say about this game. The Nets are in a very bad place, and the Wolves beat them by 20.
Next up are the Orlando Magic on Monday night at Target Center.