Wolves 129, Nets 109: An Easy Win is a Good Win

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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.”

Yeah, anyway.

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.

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4 thoughts on “Wolves 129, Nets 109: An Easy Win is a Good Win

  1. Should have won and they did. That’s a good step. Up to 12-11 since the Bulls game, 3.5 games outside of the playoffs. It’s a good step and the team appears to be learning.

    Very happy with the play of Wiggins lately. Outside of Paul George playing at his best and just taking and making hard shots, Wiggins has looked very good lately. 48/43/82 shooting split, 25 ppg, 3.4 assists, all numbers well above his career averages. It doesn’t seem unsustainable either (except the three point shooting). He’s looking comfortable out there now that Towns has really taken the #1 role.

    Speaking of Towns, I think it’s fair to say the All Star game has motivated him. Last five his splits are 62/63/74, 31 ppg, 11.5 rpg, almost 4 assists and 2 blocks. He’s been ridiculous. Part of his defensive lapses seem to be systemic, where the whole team fails rather than just him, but obviously it’s something he needs to improve as well. If we can see a teamwide improvement on defense, guys learning the system better, communicating, Towns will start looking like an MVP candidate and it’ll be ridiculous that he didn’t make the all star game. One thing I’d like to see is Thibs reduce Towns’ minutes. He’s young and hasn’t dealt with injuries, but I’d like to keep it that way. 2-3 minutes less a game doesn’t seem like much but it’d add up over the season. I’m sure Towns would hate the idea of playing less but he’s the future of this team and a big guy, need to make sure we keep our star healthy for the long run.

  2. Even though not exciting, this game was fun for me. We showed some flashes of good D, but what really excited me is that we ran some offensive sets, had much more ball movement and players moving without the ball. It was encouraging to see the players attempting things that would break down and opposing D. We still took some bad shots or occasionally looked stagnant (and certainly never creative on offense). But our ball movement was so much better, we played some nice two player sets, and guys made some timely cuts.

    All that being said, the Nets are shockingly bad. They appear to rely on an excessive amount of 3’s and just hope they fall (they didn’t in this game). They are just a horrible team on D. I have to say that we can be pretty bad on D as well, but we have physical ability that they just don’t. Part of their inability to defend appears to be lack of physical talent. The other part… So, a lot of our crazy good offense in this game is that the Nets made it so easy, goaded us into playing right and succeeding at everything we tried. Despite playing offense more ‘the right way’ we had too much hero ball, but it all looked good in this context. Still, if we run our offense more like this it will be harder for good teams to stop us in the future. The problem is that we likely won’t run our offense this well consistently any time soon and we actually need even more sets in our offense, better p&r, more effective use of screens, more transition, better cuts, less ball stopping etc going forward.

    LaVine already appears to be back. It’s not just that his shot is falling, but he’s not making dumb decisions at an alarming rate like he suddenly was anymore. The rate at which these guys go in and out of playing well can be disconcerting, even for young guys. Shabazz is another—he was a train wreck for the first part of the season, and now he’s carrying the bench. His three’s are just dropping. I love it, but I keep looking over my shoulder thinking at any moment they will start clanking. Can he keep this up?

    Dunn looked good out there but mostly because he didn’t do anything stupid. He wasn’t scoring, despite 7 assists he wasn’t passing notably well or running a lot of advanced offense, and his penetration is not as advertised. But he held the fort down and guys around him played well, and in this game that’s all we needed.

    Justin Hamilton is still in the league!? Good for him.

    I swear Atkinson is Bill Nye the Science Guy’s brother.

    Hopefully we can translate some of the good things we did in this game to Orlando and beyond.

  3. Rubio’s intentional foul was the result of Towns’ getting knocked down (without a foul call) and not getting up. The Wolves need to stop the clock to see what was wrong – I don’t know if Towns’ slow recovery showed up on TV but I was at the game and it was pretty plain to me what was going on.

  4. Thankfully the Wolves beat the worst team in the league at home. Sadly, one of their nine wins was against our Wolves in November. Besides the Nets not making threes quite as frequently as they did back then, KAT and the team (Baz was a beast on the offensive boards) played with more passion in the low block and were just the better players on the floor.

    Your title “An Easy Win is a Good Win” isn’t necessarily true. I would have liked to see our starters out of the game for most of the fourth, giving Payne, Jones, and the rest of the bench, more than the mop-up couple minutes at the end. Resting the starters would be a good way to insure that they stay healthy. I think giving the NETS 109 points isn’t a good showing defensively and I think offensively that there was some nice ball movement, but there were also stretches again last night, which saw too much dribbling by our big three going hero ball against a team that couldn’t make them pay for their selfish play.

    Hopefully, they got it out of their system. When you look at the standings, you see that we have played very competitively since Chicago, but really haven’t gained any ground for the eighth seed. The other teams fighting for that last spot are also playing better, so they will need to maintain this pace for a much longer period of time to make any movement up the list. That means they have to move without the ball, look for opportunities to put bad teams away early, so they can save their energy and give the bench some run and play better defense.

    A win is a win. The team is going to have to keep it up through February, if they want to sneak into the bottom of the playoffs this year.

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