2016-17 Season, Game Analysis

Heat 123, Wolves 105: A Tough Road Ahead

What happens now?

The Wolves, with 14 games to go, sit at 28-40 on the season. The past decade and a half would almost exclusively put them completely out of the Western Conference playoff race. But this year is weird. As of right now, they sit at the 11th spot, but still, somehow, just 5 games out of 8th.

The problem with this is:

A) The Wolves were 2.5 games back just 2 weeks ago.

B) 5 games out with 14 games to go is a high hill to climb.

C) The Mavericks and Blazers still sit between them and 8th, in addition to the actual 8th place Nuggets.

Last night, like what is/was every night going forward, was a must-win for the Wolves. The score itself is a bit of an illusion; they were down by just 4 halfway through the 4th quarter. But when they fell apart, it was over. And keep in mind, the Heat are in a race for the 8th spot too. And coming into last night, they were in real striking range. After their win, they’re in 8th.

The Wolves’ failed effort to stay in relevance had few positive points last night, but they did exist. Ricky Rubio extended his 20+ point streak to 4, as well as his “foul trouble in key spots” streak to 2. His scoring night was only overmatched by the  big man duel that the national audience was hoping for.

Karl-Anthony Towns kept his torrid number streak going, shooting 11-17 for 31 points and 11 rebounds. But his desire to keep the Wolves in the game offensively may have been outmatched by his and Gorgui Dieng’s (primarily Gorgui) inability to stay with Hassan Whiteside (23 points on 10-11 shooting) on the pick and roll. Whiteside’s chemistry with Goran Dragic has developed over the past couple years, and their ability to set up the alley off the pick and roll is among the top combos in the league. They exposed the Wolves several times with this.

Notice here, Whiteside isn’t even the screener. He just leaks towards the basket the moment Dieng goes to help.

https://gyazo.com/65e943ea57416d0d8a46a5bcde266ade

Off the bench, Tyler Johnson broke out of a slump of sorts to help Whiteside and Dragic in the scoring column. While both teams had 3 guys put up decent scoring numbers (KAT, Rubio, Wiggins for the Wolves), and different members of the supporting cast scoring as well (Shabazz and Dieng both scored the ball efficiently), the difference lied in the defense.

The Wolves had a period where they were topping the league in defensive rating over a stretch of games that INCLUDED the 142 point onslaught the Rockets did to them earlier in March. Last night’s performance showed no signs of that defensive competence. The Heat shot nearly 60 percent from the floor, and got the free throw line 19 times. In other words, Goran Dragic (who had 10 assists in the game) was free to whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Whiteside followed suit.

So what happens now? The Wolves have 14 games to go. Here is their schedule going forward:

Looking at the schedules for Denver, Dallas, and Portland, it looks like the Wolves may have the toughets road ahead. And being 5 games back, behind 3 teams for the last spot, the odds of the Wolves making the playoffs is bleak at this point.

To be fair, being in a race in mid-March is something the Wolves haven’t really experienced since 2005. In that sense, it is fun to be a Timberwolves fan again. There are upsides to this downswing. That said, going forward, everything remains a must-win. More now than yesterday, even.

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2 thoughts on “Heat 123, Wolves 105: A Tough Road Ahead

  1. The remaining schedule has four wins (Lakers three times and Sacramento once). One that should be a win, because NOLA doesn’t want wins at this point. That’s five. If somehow they can sweep three with Portland that is eight of 14. That would be mean we are going to be at 36 wins, which would be a nice uptick from last year and we would finish above .500 since the 6-18 start. I can’t see us doing much better than that and that means another year to wait for playoff tickets at Target Center.

    Sadly, Denver would only need three more wins to keep us out, but they will probably keep Dallas and Portland out if they win five of their last 13, especially if we ruin Portland’s chances with some solid play in a three game series with the Blazers. If Thibs thinks this way, he could rest KAT and Wiggins (much needed ) on the other dates when we aren’t playing in the division, and give Dunn, Baz, Cole and Tyus a larger amount of playing time. Focus on that Series with Portland and the two games with Utah/OKC and of course the weaker teams LA, Sac and NOLA. Divisional games are important because you have to pass these guys to be serious playoff contenders and OKC will be the final home game.

    Next year the team should add two Free Agents, at least one draft pick and rid themselves of Pek, Jordan Hill, Adrian Payne and KG remaining money. IF Baz sees himself as a sixth man, he could be kept, but seriously is he a sixth man for a playoff team? I also think that Baz will go where he thinks he can start and that means we will miss a fun player and why he should get minutes in the remaining games.

    PG Rubio, Dunn and Tyus (what would you get that is better than that trio?)
    SG LaVine and JJ Reddick
    SF Wiggins, Rush and Belly (Baz if he doesn’t get other offers, so we can sign him at reasonable price.)
    PF Paul Milsap, Lauri Markkanen and Ghorghi
    C KAT, Cole and Aron Baynes

    The Wolves need better shooters and more beef. Guys that don’t go cold for two or three games at a time and guys that when we play big players, push back. It was a trying year this year, but a brighter future is coming this fall.

  2. Hate to say it, but we ran out of must wins. I think we’re officially toast as far as the playoffs go. It’s not just that we mathematically are between a rock and hard place, but we just don’t have ‘it’ anymore. We look like we reverted back to well before the all star break on D allowing Miami to tear us to shreds with the likes of Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Luck Babbitt and Rodney McGruder (I’m not a good enough NBA fan to not being saying ‘who the eff are these guys?’ all night). We looked done. We feel done. I think we’re done. If that isn’t enough, the Bjelica and Stephenson injuries were just not something we could handle at this point and without LaVine’s instant O and given fatigue issues.

    Refs. Yikes, we get it, you don’t want us in the playoffs. You guys know the chances us making the playoff even without getting the 3rd degree from you guys every night? Spoiler alert: Extremely low. Two games in a row of untimely foul trouble for Rubio? Don’t change a thing, Rubio, based on that kind of officiating.

    That said, I’d like us to pretend like we can make the playoffs and to play like a team that is trying really hard to win. Except maybe try to rest starters a normal amount and sorta develop some ideas for bench personnel next season. It’s interesting: I think Thibs rode the starters too hard all season. He gave guys like Dunn way more minutes than they deserved but was also somewhat derelict in his duty to develop and trust a true bench. In some ways this made us a bit more fun to watch than we would otherwise be (I always get sad when Rubio comes out of the game) but it was not sustainable and the last few games have made that clear. It is interesting to see what has happened under these conditions… Rubio played his best ball of his career under them. Towns played really well too. Wiggins melted. Dunn couldn’t handle even the limited role asked of him (which was clearly pulled back as Thibs realized the project he unexpectedly had on his hands). Rush isn’t enough as a role player. But man, what Rubio has done under pressure lately is amazing. The Wolves looked flat in this one and assists were hard to come by with even the snappiest of passing, but Rubio often got a basket when we really needed one.

    On the topic of Towns, Jim Pete and others were comparing him to Whiteside and touting it as this big matchup. There is not a comparison. Whiteside is 27, a late bloomer who relies on his freakish standing reach and springiness (for a big). Towns is all skill at 22 and doesn’t look to be spending years floating around the D league. Don’t get me wrong–Whiteside is a very good player and has put a lot of work into his game. But he’s a guy who leans on the fact that he’s a perfect physical specimen to be a dunk/rim protection big. As imposing as Towns is physically, he’s not built as such D gimmie. Towns is all talent, all skill. I hope he takes to heart how Whiteside gets under his skin and works in the off season to be a better defender, but the two aren’t similar players on similar trajectories. Towns is on an all star/hall of fame trajectory. Whiteside has finally made good on his physical gifts and is a good NBA player at almost 28 years old. Towns definitely has a project this summer: Become a better defender/rim protector.

    I like Gorgui. Some nights I think he’s the glue, the only reason we do well as a team. Other nights he does not look like a starter. Ultimately the bench might be a better place for him. We are certainly lacking at least one quality big (a PF). Some guys reluctantly get praise/trust from Thibs, some people get it right away, while others can do almost nothing to earn his trust. Rubio is in the reluctant category for some inexplicable reason, Dunn and Gorgui (who Thibs always calls G, like his name is too crazy to say) were right away guys for Thibs, and Hill is in the can’t do anything to win praise category. While I don’t really disagree with Thibs’ disdain for him, it begs the question: Why’ja sign him?

    Too early for me to make a Wolves shopping list for next year. But I will say, Rush is not working and we need to upgrade that role, esp because LaVine will be slow coming back and not 100% for a while after. Shabazz seems like he might not accept his bench role and I’m not even sure he fills it consistently enough (or can in the future). I like him and wish he’d be that for us and stay. He has some big time heart. I think a bench role is ideal for Gorgui and we need a starting level true PF. That means Towns needs to learn to rim protect better. The way Rubio has been playing has to give pause to redo the team calculus. Suddenly, his strengths are still there and his assumed flaws are not. Bjelica is intriguing as a really good bench player. How severe is his injury? Can he return to form fast or will it shatter his glass confidence? Just as we need to press reset on our Rubio assumptions, we need to in a mirror, bizzaro way with Dunn. Was he a big mistake for a 5th pick? What are the next expectations going forward after what we’ve seen this year? It isn’t just his quality as a player, but the fact that he plays ‘less bad’ or ‘less harmful to the team’ at the 2. What position is he? He looks more and more like a positionless, bench ‘dude guard’. On the other hand, call me crazy, but I like Tyus as a long term backup PG on good teams in this league. Obviously we will continue to be a 1a 1b and 2 team—in other words Towns and Wiggins will be our stars and LaVine will be our secondary star. No one will appreciate what Rubio does enough to call him a star, but to me he has been from the moment he stepped on an NBA court. Given this system of rank, Wiggins is going to be pressed as the future next season. But how up to it is he? He’s looked dead on his feet just when we needed him. I wonder if leaning on him long term as a #1 type guy is just asking for peril. I’m more of a Towns bandwagon guy right now. Perhaps keeping perspective on this will help us in the future–Wiggins may have his limitations as a player and personality and Towns may not.

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