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Back to Work to Do Your Job: Timberwolves 97, Mavericks 84

After their win at Denver on February 15, the Timberwolves had 8 days off. Only Karl-Anthony Towns had All-Star Weekend obligations, so most of the team had some pure time to relax. On Friday night back at Target Center, they appeared more rested than rusty, beating the Dallas Mavericks by 13 points, 97-84. The Mavs were without their complete roster, just having lost center Andrew Bogut and point guard Deron Williams in the trade-deadline shuffle and not yet having newcomer Nerlens Noel active and in the lineup. The shorthanded Mavs, largely behind the sweet-shooting of Seth Curry (a very poor man’s version of his brother Steph, which still makes him an effective offensive player) kept the game close until the last few minutes, when a series of nice plays by Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns put them away for good.

The first quarter was dominated by Wiggins, who poured in 16 early points when his teammate KAT was struggling. Towns was doing that thing he sometimes does, holding the ball when the double team comes and then forcing a difficult pass instead of making a quick and easy one. Karl finished the game with 7 turnovers, most of which came in the first half. Judging by his post-game remarks but more so by his sideline reactions, Thibs hates those KAT turnovers out of the post as much as anything. He preaches about making the easy pass to keep the ball moving, and too often Towns makes the slow and difficult one. It’s something that’s being worked on.

In the second quarter, a second unit led by Kris Dunn (who played his usual brand of tenacious D but also hit a pair of jumpers and a couple nice dishes) and Tyus Jones next to him kept the Wolves a safe distance apart from the Mavs. Shabazz chipped in a couple of signature fast-break slams in that quarter before being mostly non-existent in the 2nd Half. The Wolves led by 9 at the break.

Jones would end up playing much of the 2nd Half (and 24 minutes overall) with Thibs after the game citing both a need to find ways to get Tyus on the floor as well as Dallas’s dual point guard lineups as reasons for the rotation adjustment. In that time, Tyus had 11 points on 4-6 shooting to go along with 2 assists and 0 turnovers in (+8) basketball. He’s become a no-doubt NBA rotation guard before turning 21 years old. Last year, when he was physically overwhelmed, it was reasonable to doubt whether or not he’d make it. Now, the question is how much more room he has to grow.

In the second half, Wiggins cooled off a bit (though he ended with an efficient 27 points) but Towns got his act together. As often seems to be the case when KAT goes from struggling to succeeding, he did more of the dirty work and got his points via hustle and jump hooks. After a slow start he ended the game with 26 points on 12-18 shooting to go along with 18 boards and 3 assists in (+16) basketball. After the Wolves let their guard down and the score was actually tied for a brief moment (at 75-75 in the mid-4th), they stepped back up and closed on a 22-9 run.

Towns scored a couple of baskets in Winning Time off of Wiggins assists, and this very unwanted sampling of LaVineless basketball is serving as an interesting experiment to see how much the Wolves offense can be carried by 2 players instead of 3. In the last 8 games since LaVine went down, Wiggins is averaging 30.6 points per game. Towns is averaging 28.1. Both have great field goal percentages and their 2-man lineup’s offensive rating is an absurdly-good and unsustainable 121.4. (That is almost 7 points better than Golden State’s offense.) This is something to keep an eye on, as the long-term management of this team involves the question of who to pay the big money to, and if they can get as good (or better!) offense from a Wig & KAT nucleus as they do the 3-headed monster that includes LaVine, it will open up their checkbook to spend on things like defense and depth.

Finally…

Ricky Rubio.

This was a long week for him; probably the longest of his NBA career — at least as far back as when he injured his knee as a rookie. Ricky was probably the most-discussed player in the lead-up to the trade deadline, with both Woj and a slew of ESPN reporters reporting throughout the week that the Wolves might trade him to the Knicks. Where exactly the negotiations began and where exactly they went before ending, we’ll probably never know all of the details. What we know is that Rubio reacted to all of it via social media (multiple times) which suggested that the rumors were real and that he was not in favor of the change.

On Friday, he went back to work and did his job. Ricky was all over the place in the second half against Dallas, stealing the ball and shoving it up the floor to streaking teammates for dunks. He mixed in a variety of clever shots of his own. When it was all said and done, Rubio 13 points, 14 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals. He was (+15). The crowd, which on a Friday was bigger than the disappointing Target Center average, showed him lots of love, cheering louder than usual for their favorite point guard who they (maybe?) nearly lost for good, a couple days back.

After the game Thibs was mostly positive and very quick and to the point. He arrived in the media room earlier than usual, perhaps because his team has a flight to Houston to catch. Tomorrow night they’ll face the 41-18 Rockets, where they will once again have to do their job to have a chance to win.

Until then.

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7 thoughts on “Back to Work to Do Your Job: Timberwolves 97, Mavericks 84

  1. Though Ricky plays this hard and has this type of skill almost every game, this felt like a bit of a statement. He’s sick of the rumors. Not just because they put his life in flux but because they show a lack of appreciation for all that he brings to the team, including hard work that puts most everyone else to shame. He went out there and said, ‘This is what I think of you putting my on the block’ with his game. The stats are stated above and say a lot, though not all. I will say it seemed like he had more than 3 steals.

    Dat behind the back!

    Jim Pete was going on about Wiggins in the first half when we was hot. At one point he said, ‘He can do things Towns just can’t’. Yeah, I guess… But the same is true of Towns. I think a really underrated thing about this team is KAT’s ability to get a jump hook at nearly any time in a game, even if triple covered. And it seems like he’s shooting 70% or something on those. I’m not bored enough to go look at heat maps about it, but he’s deadly down there even when covered very well. It’s something we can fall back on for baskets and we probably should a little more at important moments. Both Wiggins and Towns had good games, and both had a good half and a bad half, although KAT’s bad half was a little worse. I guess the point is, these are two young stars. No need to play one against the other. They are very good. I favor Towns, but Wiggins has looked more efficient and engaged lately and I’m very excited to see them both out there working together.

    It seemed like we were rested not rusted, as mentioned above, and it looked like everyone had a little time to think. The guys seemed to display that some of Thibs’ teachings are indeed sinking in. Rubio was clearly happy to be here and wanted to put on a display of why it should be obvious he should stay. Unlike the R&R of most of the roster over the break, Rubio had time to work up a little more attitude. I was doing some (pathetic) bicep flexing on his behalf during the game. Thibs looks like he mulled some things over, too. Dallas went small because they pretty much had to. But am not sure that’s the only reason Thibs rolled out Tyus for 24 minutes. Dunn only played 13 minutes and they are both guards… I wonder if Thibs has finally come up with a resolution to get Tyus more minutes down the stretch. It worked well in this game. And when Dunn and Jones were out there together Jones mostly handled the PG duties. Dunn didn’t even look that bad as far as Dunn goes, but he’s light years behind Tyus as a player, let alone Rubio. In my heart our PG is Rubio, our backup PG is Jones and Dunn is an experiment with no certain outcome or required minutes level.

    I’ve got to say, it has to be hard to be Steph Curry’s brother. I kind of want to punch him and I haven’t spent my whole life being usurped by him… So I think it is pretty cool that Seth is carving out his own NBA career. Good for him. And he did get the better name between the two.

  2. It wasn’t a pretty win, given that Dallas was short handed and probably not making a play for the 8th seed. Wiggins, KAT and Rubio were clearly better than anything Dallas could muster to defend them with. KAT played Barnes pretty well when Dallas worked small. A much needed win, but I hope they protect the ball better against Rockets. I enjoyed Ricky taking it to the basket. Not just the behind the back bucket, but the baseline lay-in against Curry too.

    The commentary last night was, as usual, below average. Petey had a couple good takes on KAT, but Benz has to go. His voice is irritating and his comments are D League worthy. Why do we have Kevin Lynch upstairs with Hanneman? I would prefer GM Layden there, to allow Hanny a chance to ask what Thibs is thinking or about the growth of a player on either the wolves or an opponent. If we have to have a former Minnesotan, how about Gary Trent or Joel Pryzbilla? Guys that did more than just hang in the league for a couple years with expansion teams like Lynch. Quincy is getting better, but still has that deer in the headlights look. Guys like Trent Tucker and McHale with Hartman or the master, Kevin Harlen, probably spoiled me, but we just have to have someone in town who is better than Lynch and Benz.

    1. The funny part about having Lynch there is he’s always looking for a chance to bash Rubio’s shooting, when that was literally his only NBA skill and he couldn’t stick on a team for longer than 2 seasons. He attempted 9 3 pointers in his entire NBA career. I liked Mike McCollow back when he was on there. Probably unrealistic to think Layden would agree to be on TV consistently. Not a big fan of Benz. Alan Horton is really good on the radio, and he and Jim Pete play off each other well when FSN isn’t carrying the game.

    2. I think you’re being too hard on Benz and not hard enough on Lynch. It blows my mind that he still doesn’t see the value in Rubio.

  3. The funny thing about the 2 Mavs-Wolves home games is how seriously the Mavs have seemed to take both, and the Wolves still pulled away from them in both. Dirk’s airball and that time he didn’t see Rubio and threw it right to him kinda made me sad in the same way KG missing so many games and Duncan being benched for a whole game against the Warriors made me sad. The schadenfreude of Kobe chucking up shots for a terrible team where all his teammates hated him was hilarious and seemed fitting, though.

  4. I have heard Alan Horton, and he is solid. I agree that watching Kobe the last year with the Lakers was a perfect way for him to be remembered. When he was great, he never saw a shot he didn’t like and at the end, it was the same way. Mentoring young players? That wasn’t in little Jellybean’s DNA.

  5. Quincy is so awful. How many people who would be better at that but didn’t play D-1 college ball are there in just Minnesota? Like 200,000? He’s one of the worst, whatever you call that, ‘desk analysts’ I’ve ever heard. Every time he’s on, I turn the channel for a few seconds because I’m so embarrassed for him. And he’s been at this for years now and only gotten ever so slightly less embarrassing. At his best, he sounds like a rather slow sports jargon spewing computer algorithm.

    I like Jim Pete, although sometimes he’ll say kind of dumb stuff, or obsess about something trivial or just plain wrong. But he’s mostly insightful and entertaining. Benz is an announcer (non-color commentary guy) with a nasal voice that would be laughed off of radio. He’s no Ralph Lawler. And as far as the nuts and bolts of his job, he frequently biffs things and doesn’t see things that I can on a 36 inch TV from ten feet away while reading a book. So, he’s kind of not great. But he tries and enjoys the Wolves legitimately. The overall pairing is decent compared to some I’ve heard, I guess and could be a lot worse. Lately they’ve been yaking about lists they compile for babble fill or not say anything about the game for long stretches even when it’s interesting and competitive more and more. I’m not sure why. Focus. There’s usually a lot going on in the game and in individual plays to talk about. Wish they’d cut back on that off topic thing a bit…

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