The Minnesota Timberwolves won their fourth straight game on Saturday night, 112-99. You could call it a “schedule win,” since the now-streaking Wolves had two days off to prepare, and the Mavs were on the second half of a back-to-back. Minnesota was rested and ready, and Dallas looked tired and slow, and that alone is enough to swing the balance of many games, especially ones between evenly matched teams.
But these teams aren’t evenly matched. The Wolves played fine, but unevenly. The Mavericks just kind of suck. Back-to-back or not, these are the types of teams that Jimmy Butler & Company had better expect to beat, the more handily the better. Despite being a 13-point win, the outcome was never really in doubt. It was more a blowout than a nail-biter, despite 19 turnovers from the guys in home whites and the energetic defiance of J.J. Barea and Dennis Smith, Jr.
The Wolves are now talented enough to cover for themselves on nights like this one, where they aren’t as sharp as they ought to be. A Tyus Jones lob to Gorgui Dieng arced high into the air before falling low into the big man’s hands, because he hadn’t even jumped, but he managed to salvage free throws out of the situation. Butler and Towns messed up a simple high-low pass, but Jeff Teague stole it back when the ball went the other way. Taj Gibson collected a loose ball and hit a turnaround jumper on a broken play out of a timeout, then turned to the coaches and shrugged in mild dissatisfaction. Forty-five seconds later, KAT hit a corner three when an errant pass careened off a couple of Mavericks and found him in the corner, wide open and ready to fire.
Sure, there was plenty of objectively good things about the Minnesota’s play. They out-rebounded Dallas 48-to-31, recorded 33 assists on 43 made field goals (an excellent ratio), shot 71% in the paint, and 42% from three. Karl led the way with 31 points and 12 rebounds, Andrew Wiggins scored 23 points on 14 shots, and although Butler and Teague combined to go just 6-of-20 from the field, they combined for 17 dimes. Taj Gibson, who goes terribly underappreciated, had 10-10-4 on 5-of-8 shooting and snagged six offensive rebounds. Tyus Jones hit three three-pointers, Nemanja Bjelica continued his hot play by hitting two threes of his own, and Gorgui Dieng had a few nifty passes in his 14 bench minutes.
Old Friend J.J. Barea was his usual, tenacious self, scoring 14 points and dishing out 6 assists in 19 minutes. But other than that, Dallas was depressing as hell. Dirk Nowitzki looks old and slow and pained to move too much, too quickly. It’s like watching your graying 14-year-old chocolate lab, bad hips and all, willing himself into motion so he can gingerly trot across the room to his water dish. Nerlens Noel attempted three putback dunks where he palmed nothing but the air, and then grabbed the rim, bending it downward in vain, all for show, as if he needed to audibly remind the coaching staff, “Hear it? I’m TRY-ING out HERE.” Devin Harris and Yogi Ferrell tried to guard Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler, and they tried really hard, but damn. Why are they being asked to do that? Salah Mejri, who is the clumsiest human being who has ever collected an NBA paycheck, had the nerve to scowl at Dirk during an offensive set. And Dwight Powell…
Dwight Powell pouts like my 4-year-old when I tell him he can’t have anymore Halloween candy. Judging by his reactions has both a) never committed a foul and b) been fouled on every play he has ever touched the ball, ever. One of the things I like watching closely when I’m covering a game is how players interact with officials – is it cooperative, or combative? Is it respectful, or belligerent? The only players I’ve seen worse at dealing with the referees in my five years of doing this are the Morris twins. And at least they’re good. Powell isn’t even an NBA player.
Rick Carlisle must be feeling the blues; he is, undoubtedly, one of the three or four best coaches in the league. But the Dallas Mavericks are now 1-10, and he’s stuck with this odd roster of players past their prime, point guards and petulant young big men. At least they have Dennis Smith, Jr. who appears to be the real deal. But the whole situation looks pretty bleak; tonight, they were fodder for a Wolves team that was nowhere close to firing on all cylinders.
The times appear to be changing. The Wolves did what they were supposed to do and won, handily. The next test comes Sunday night, when they take on the Hornets.