Lakers 110, Timberwolves 109: Whatever and Ever, Amen

Let’s just skip to the end:

Ok. Breaking it down…

This is not good defense. This is a pretty good look to allow the Lakers to get. Granted, it’s Metta World Peace taking the shot, and he entered the game shooting 22% from the floor and 14% from three this season (no, I am not exaggerating), but still. Not great.

Metta clangs it off the front iron, and the ball ends up in the hands of Julius Randle out on the wing. Note the time: 5.4 seconds remain. He can’t exactly be leisurely about what he does next, but it isn’t as if Randle needs to heave a shot immediately or anything.

But look what the Wolves do. The man assigned to Julius Randle is Gorgui Dieng. Julius Randle is a 28% three-point shooter for his career. Ricky Rubio leaves his man, Jordan Clarkson, to come over and crowd Randle. Jordan Clarkson, to the left of the screen, is a career 33% shooter from three, and he is now wide open. Andrew Wiggins also leaves his man, D’Angelo Russell, to come over and stand near the ball as well. D’Angelo Russell, top middle of the screen, is a career 35% shooter from three, and he is also wide open. The Wolves, up two, are triple-teaming a bad three-point shooter, and leaving two passable three-point shooters wide open. That is what is happening.

THE WOLVES ARE NOW ****CLOSELY**** TRIPLE-TEAMING A BAD THREE POINT SHOOTER, AND LEAVING TWO PASSABLE THREE-POINT SHOOTERS WIDE OPEN. LOOK! EVERYONE TOOK A STEP UP TO RANDLE! LOOK AT ALL THE ROOM RUSSELL AND CLARKSON HAVE!

TIMBERWOLVES,

And here’s the icing on the Tank Cake. Julius Randle sees a guy in the same colored shirt, who is just sort of standing there, all alone. It’s a good thing he did not see the OTHER GUY in the same colored shirt, who was standing on the other side of him, all alone as well, otherwise Randle may have panicked. “OPTIONS?” he would have thought. “I have OPTIONS? Why do I have options?” Anyway, Randle sees Russell, so he passes him the ball. Russell fires the cannon. Then, the ball arcs towards the hoop, past the desperate, outstretched hand of Andrew Wiggins, who was far too busy standing near a non-threat with two of his teammates to cover his own man, who is about a league-average three-point shooter. Then, the ball caroms of the back iron, high into the air. If you turn the sound all the way up, you can hear the rim reverberating, and the reverberations are a whisper, and the whisper says, “It’s been 80 games, why don’t the fellows in the black pajamas know how to play defense, yet?” And then the ball cackles loudly as it drops softly through the net, like a teardrop from the rafters, and the Lakers (who are trying to lose) have won the game, and the Wolves (who are playing very tired 21 and 22 year olds 38-to-41 minutes per night in an effort to win) have lost the game.

And that’s really the story of game 80 of this extremely long, disappointing season. Karl put up a 40-21-4 line on 17-of-22 shooting. Andrew scored 41 points on 13-of-26 shooting. It was just the 15th time (per the Wolves telecast) that teammates have scored 40 in an NBA game. Perfect, right? Those two doing something historic, while the team finds a way to lose it at the end. The game had the ebb and flow of garbage time – there was a whole lot of “I don’t know, YOU do something,” and for the Wolves, that was Karl, who feasted on whoever the Lakers threw at him. There was also a lot of “I will get to the rim and either score, or flail for a foul,” and that was Wigg, who attempted 14 free throws, and whose layup with 33 seconds to go looked like the game-sealer.

In closing: there’s going to be plenty of time to re-evaluate things in the offseason, but one thing feels certain: the way the Wolves are finishing the season does not exactly inspire confidence. Something’s got to change. Closing with two home wins will help, but until the Wolves figure out a a way to close these out, and play good defense when it matters, and have young studs who are real two-way players, this angst and apathy will linger beneath and behind everything.

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  1. Some sour thoughts:

    I said the exact same thing during this game–it looks like we are wearing black pajamas.

    Speaking of strange awaw pseudo-psychicness, I’m kinda obsessive about watching these games and I forgot about the Jazz game. Totally blanked it. And weirdly there is no write up for it here. Hear it sucked…

    Where does ‘Mr. Defense’ hide from this kind of thing? How long can you blame the players totally for this kind of performance over and over on D, and really no improvement on D overall throughout the season?

    There was an article about Thibs in the Star Tribune. The internet comments section has truly overtaken local sports journalism. It basically said, ‘As we near the end of the season, one thing has become clear. Thibs yells a lot. I think that means he’s passionate?’

    The flip side of the coin is the players. We have some major maturity issues. Something that stuck out to me in this game is when it became certain that both Towns and Wiggins would have 40 point games, Wiggins got all smiley and proud and was messing around with his teammates instead of being half asleep. For one, how does he even know what a rare thing that feat is in the franchise? He should be so focused on the game he doesn’t even notice. And it is in the middle of the last stretch of a close game against a hated rival. Wiggins’ lack of focus and competitive drive, as well as his questionable priorities became crystal clear at that moment. Towns didn’t do that, and when we lost he looked pissed. Wiggins was like ‘whatevs’. Rubio is getting mega pissed, Towns isn’t totally mature yet but hates losing. I think Towns will be OK in a while, and Rubio is the adult in the room. Wiggins… I’m not happy with what he gives and I’m not sure he’s going to totally outgrow it.

    You could spend all your time and energy complaining about our D and trying to fix it and still not get it where it needs to be for a long time. But it is easy to forget how awful our O is. I’ve said things to this effect before, but basically, we have great talent and effort on O that covers up a laughably awful system and guys that just aren’t trained to run basic sets and get decent looks (or take enough threes to stay in game mathematically. We started off the season better in this regard but have regressed after injuries. But you still have to take 3 pt shots to win.) The D problem is one of focus and natural instincts. Most of our players just don’t feel D and have to be taught it. You could say the way our D looks is a failure of teaching but the way or offense looks (particularly the dry spells and bad crunch time) is a failure of system, of not even having something proper to teach. Thibs has failed to teach D and failed to put in an even close to average O system to teach the players.

    These are harsh words, but it’s not just about having to endure games like this. I get it, the guys are beat down, we’re almost done. But what I realized recently is that this team has barely improved from the problem filled, one year younger days of last season. Then we were 29 and 53. This year we are 31-49 with two games left. People came in with high expectations. Then we started the season crappy, and some folks started shaming everyone for having those expectations–calling them unrealistic–and acting like it wasn’t a pretty much across the board thing. Expectations may indeed have been inflated, but I don’t think it makes any sense for this team to show this little progress record-wise. Lest we say the real improvement is building chemistry, teaching the young guys a new system and fundamentals, and positioning ourselves for the next year, I think we’ve all seen a lack of progress on developmental fronts. It’s not like there is no development here, but it’s all individual and not enough. The main thing I see is Rubio improving his scoring somewhat and Towns being a legit all NBA center on offense. Everything else is more or less a version of what it was last year. Chemistry and playing team basketball are huge issues, just like they were last year and at the beginning of this season. Thibs has overseen a team with very little improvement and not great prospects for impressive improvement in the near future. That’s just what happened. Not what I would have guessed. I was excited to see what he could do, but it’s been a long season.

    Who’s closing in on the single season Wolves scoring record? Towns. With how hard Thibs (and his predecessors) have been pushing Wiggins as our lead scorer and crunch time star, and even running our offense as totally ‘Wiggins centeric’ at times, it is a little stunning that it is Towns who is ahead in this category. It’s a pretty basic stat. He’s scored more than Wiggins, even as we’ve drawn our offense around the shape of Wiggins. To me that shows who the real #1 talent is, as clear as day.

    The 11th can’t come soon enough.

    • I was at the Jazz game. Wolves had everything in hand until Jeff Withey. He sets the most illegal screens in the history of illegal screens. There was like a 3 minute stretch in the 3rd where Withey would set a screen, slide when Hayward failed to brush his shoulder. Slide his feet 3 times and ride Wiggins to the halfcourt. Then the Jazz would knock down the wide open 3. Went from an 8 point lead to losing and they never regained the lead.

      I was in a booth with some coworkers who are Jazz fans and those screens became the joke for the rest of the night.

      Outside of that the Wolves actually outplayed the Jazz for most of the game. KAT gets under Goberts skin, to the point that they actually shifted Diaw on him to save Gobert from his second tech.

  2. Games like the Lakers mess last night, make me question whether we would have been better off with Mitch than Thibs. For all the reasons mentioned by pyrrol and the article mentioned, the defense is getting worse,not better. Either teams have figured out his ICE defense and he doesn’t have a second act or his players are not interested in learning it. Either way, it is a sad state of affairs that we have lost twice to a team that is potentially going to lose its draft pick for not tanking, has benched its veterans and now has a longer win streak than our wolves have mustered this year.

    If it is Thibs not getting through to these players, or if he is more fraud than front line coach, than we are screwed as fans again. If it is the players stubbornly rejecting defense, thinking they can simply outscore people, than hopefully this summer we will see major changes to the team. At this point, keeping KAT is the only priority. IF the bulls want to trade us Butler for Wiggins and a future pick, I say do it. If we can coax Paul George to come here for LaVine and Rubio, I say get it done. Use our cap space to get some good depth veterans and hope that Thibs can do better with this year’s draft pick. I’m sick and tired of losing to showboat losers like the Lakers. I want us to have the all-star team that competes with the Warriors, next year; not hopefully in two to three years.

    When you see how OKC has rebounded from the loss of Durant; Denver and Portland fighting for a playoff spot and Utah solidly in the playoffs, there is no guarantee that this bunch of underachievers is going to rise in the Northwest Division in time to make KAT feel he should stay. The future is now to compete for a playoff spot and protect KAT, our #1 pick this year as part of a winning tradition. The rest of these pups, including my favorite spanish unicorn and lunch pail Senegalese royalty, need to move on. They have been Clipperized or now more accurately called, Timberwashed. Losing is not a heart crushing event for these guys anymore. Stats and personal highlights are more important. The fans of this franchise deserve more from this team than new uniforms.

  3. “If you turn the sound all the way up, you can hear the rim reverberating, and the reverberations are a whisper, and the whisper says, “It’s been 80 games, why don’t the fellows in the black pajamas know how to play defense, yet?””

    This is the point I laughed at work in a stall, making the person adjacent to me vaugely uncomfortable.

    So thanks for that.

    Best part of the season by far!

  4. I think some roster retooling will help and is already part of the plan, anyhow. But what will really turn our fortunes around is coaching. Either Thibs needs to get a lot better or we need a new coach in order to be a competitive playoff team in the future. So the bottom line problem with this team at this point for me is coaching.

    Here’s an example: Wiggins. We can’t squeeze blood form a turnip, but that’s been Thibs’ strategy all season while more or less relegating Towns to a secondary role on the offense with firstdary talent. Maybe trading Wiggins for Butler wouldn’t be a bad idea, but Wiggins is decent and will improve. It’s more about our expectations and way of using him. He’s a second/third fiddle. He has glaring weaknesses in effort, leadership, attitude and decision making that put a cap on what he will become. Specifically, all the pressure Thibs puts on him as our ‘get buckets’ guy and #1 option and some sort of leader by default of usage and place in offensive scheme… that’s just not what his natural role is and you can’t force it on him. He’s been treated as the next LeBron his whole life, but it turns out he neither has the raw talent, build, nor disposition to be even close to that kind of player. What if he’s not even a #1 type guy on a playoff team? This concept seems not to even occurred to our coaching staff but I’m convinced of it. So what? The balance of the franchise doesn’t rest on Wiggins being our only go to guy. We have KAT. We have LaVine. We have a draft pick coming. We can make moves for vets. There is no need to force blood from a turnip. It’s not a winning strategy. To some degree Wiggins is frustrating and his shortcomings are his own fault. To another degree though, he is what he is, basically (of course he’ll get better and evolve) and we need to work around that. Good luck with this staff…

    As for others on this team… Gorgui is in the wrong role. He’s more of a good bench player and not a PF. We need a pure PF of starting talent to play with Towns. G on the bench as a C would be great. Rubio has shown a new dimension but he’s melting under the hot lights in this larger team meltdown as we close the season (as William mentions, not a promising way to finish). In other words, Rubio has shown us a new dimension, but due to how this team has folded and injuries he’s been pushing on himself a larger role on offense than he should ever be asked to have. He’s a setup man who can score a little bit to chip in. Lately, he’s asked to be the 2nd 3rd or even 1st scorer on the team and that’s just not him. And we should have the personnel so that he has no need for that type of role. But players have shied away from their responsibilities. LaVine being out has hurt us in the long run. But above all, our primitive offense lacking any originality, any plan B and full of stagnance forces players into bad situations and roles they shouldn’t be in. With a little personnel upgrading and better coaching, Rubio is a dream PG on this roster and will play with less self doubt. So some of these players are not guys we should totally give up on but instead use better and bring in more help for.