2016-17 Season, Season Summary

Rockets 116, Timberwolves 98: A melancholy melody is the place I belong

“I have a weakness for waltzes, I’m a sucker for sad songs,

It ain’t my fault, dear, it’s the way I’ve become.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as happy as the daytime is long,

But in a melancholy melody, it’s the place I belong

-Parker Millsap, At the Bar (Emerald City Blues)

Despite missing Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green due to league suspensions in the wake of Secret Hallway-Gate, and James Harden playing like he was wearing cement shoes as he returned from a hamstring injury, the Houston Rockets dispatched the Minnesota Timberwolves easily on Thursday night, 116-98.

The Wolves managed to keep it close for the first 20 minutes or so of gametime, but towards the end of the first half, the Rockets capitalized off of a few bad turnovers, turned up the pace, and blitzed their way to a 13-point lead at the break. Minnesota managed to shave the lead to 6 early in the third quarter, but a three-pointer – steal – three-pointer sequence by Houston pushed it back to 12 before the Wolves knew what hit them. An end-of-the-third heave by Eric Gordon extended the lead to 19, thus relegating the final frame to garbage time.

Sure, it’s January, but it’s fair to say this was a disappointing outcome for the Wolves. James Harden looked slow and out-of-shape (he wound up going 3-of-15 from the field, for 10 points) and Trevor Ariza’s absence left Houston with one fewer wing to throw at Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (14 points, including 4-of-6 shooting from downtown… in a REVENGE GAME!) and P.J. Tucker (9 boards and a steal) did pretty good work in Ariza’s absence, and Eric Gordon picked up the scoring slack for Harden by dropping 30 points on 19 shots. The Wolves just couldn’t exploit the mismatches when they were able to force them; several times, Chris Paul wound up one-on-one defending Jimmy Butler or Andrew Wiggins, and the Wolves didn’t do nearly enough to make them pay for it. One way to counteract Houston’s attack is to slow the game down by getting to the line a ton, but Minnesota didn’t really do that. Instead, they allowed the Rockets to set the pace from the end of the second quarter onward.

Karl-Anthony Towns certainly came to play – he scored 22 points, pulled down 16 rebounds, blocked 5 shots, and was a plus-2; every other starter had a double-digit negative plus-minus. Wiggins had a 16-5-3 line, but was a game-worst minus-31. Jeff Teague had some problems throwing entry passes again (such an odd thing) and the offense sure seemed to function much more smoothly when he was off the court. Taj was quiet. Jimmy Butler had 23 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals, but couldn’t work his usual magic to get the Wolves within striking distance to make it a game.

Nemanja Bjelica had a very nice stretch early in the 2nd quarter, including this nifty steal, fastbreak and dish to Tyus Jones for a corner three:

He wound up with 5 points, 2 rebounds and 4 assists… but he played just 7 minutes, and just 2:46 in the second half of the game. Bjelica did have a pair of bad plays at the end of his first stint (a turnover, followed up by getting his next shot attempt blocked) but it still would’ve been nice to see him for a lot longer than he was out there. He at least fit the style of play the game eventually took on.

The Wolves are now 29-18 and will head home to take on the Toronto Raptors Sunday at the Target Center.

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6 thoughts on “Rockets 116, Timberwolves 98: A melancholy melody is the place I belong

  1. I was not always able to avoid major distractions while watching this one, so correct me if I’m wrong, but…

    I really wanted to show up for this one… against a tough opponent, who I dislike, on national TV with Charles and Shaq judging us. As a team we didn’t show up. KAT stood out personally as a guy who gave it his all and was pretty effective. Jimmy brought major effort as usual, but leaning so heavily on free throws for his offense was a problem. In field goal land he just wasn’t that effective and his D was a little disappointing (based on high standards we have for him).

    The elephant in the room here is coaching. We can pick apart individual efforts and there is a lot there to examine. But an invisible thread runs through all that, our strategy and how we are coached, and that thread was pretty close to completely visible tonight. I greatly dislike D’Antoni. He’s like the Isiah Thomas of coaches. I guess I like guys who are good at both sides of the ball. Shouldn’t you have to be as a head coach? D’Antoni has always been shameless about his single-minded interest in (sometimes gimmicky or cynical) offense. In his Nash days, he created a pretty fun to watch product. To resurrect his career, he adopted a much less fun, much more cynical current trend based offense: the analytics based three-‘n’ dunks thing. Gone is the variety, flow, exciting passing, and great pick and role of the Nash era, replaced by simpler action, less specialized ball movement and taking an overwhelming amount of threes. It’s cynical and boring, but pretty effective. The open question is just how well this crude imitation of what GS started will fare in the post season. Generally, D’Antoni is a disappointment at that time of year.

    That said, I have to admit D’Antoni did a decent job strategically in this one. He takes the 3 ‘n’ dunk formula to the max, too far in my opinion, but the Wolves are simply not efficient. Mike also coaches to what his personnel are good at. I was skeptical about the Paul fit, but he’s adapted well to what this team needs from him. The rest of the roster is built for 3’s and dunks. D’Antoni is a guy, in my mind, who doesn’t give a thought to D. But in this game, I have to admit, it looks like he came in with some ideas to use against us (Thibs never comes in with specific ideas to try against specific teams). You could see a few trapping doubles that threw us off at various times. Thibs never implemented anything to throw Houston off its game. Just having Mbah a Moute on the roster shows some interest in D, too.

    As far as the Wolves go, I’m pretty much on board with Barkley’s snap assessments. Thibs doesn’t do a good job of using the strengths and mitigating the weaknesses of his roster. On the other hand DAntoni’s roster looks perfectly constructed to do the type of things he wants it to do. They have shooters all over–unabashed. In this one they made17 3’s to our 8. In some ways this was inevitable and the most obvious example of this issue (yeah yeah, we know we don’t take enough threes). But Houston works at a fast pace that puts a ton of pressure on teams. They manage to cleverly manufacture dunks and easy looks. Clint Cappella is good at the very narrow thing he does, but Houston does a great job of making him look much better than he really is. In their system he’s allowed to feast. And you want players to feast. Who feasts on the Wovles? When Butler scores a lot it’s with lots of free throws and corner fadeaways thrown it. Houston pounds teams, they let shooters feast on volume and % of threes, and bigs get easy looks and dunks. They find a way to get the most efficient shots. The Wolves do not. One of their best weapons is KAT, but he doesn’t usually get enough shots and he isn’t given openings in the D to feast like Houston’s bigs. We can’t match their spread, but there is no attempt to soften the focus on KAT. Even so he usually doesn’t have enough touches–he’s our most efficient offensive option. In this one KAT got his looks, and played well, but he was on an island. Despite the numbers, Wiggins played poorly again and didn’t really have any edge. Butler labored. Teague… well, it seemed pretty clear that he got outplayed by Tyus, as far as who makes us better as a team. No idea why Bjelly didn’t play more. For once we had a chance to crush a bench with sheer #’s. Even with Thibs reluctance we played 4 bench guys actual time out there, to their 3 (they were quite short handed). But he didn’t play our bench guys enough minutes to have any advantage in energy open up there. Even with only a 7 man rotation (to our 8) Houston’s starters played way less (excessive) minutes. For good measure we even got out rebounded.

    We don’t match up well with this team. But we have to do more with strategy and adjustments to win, otherwise the Houstons of the league will always completely have our number. We got scolded by them, with 2 rotation players missing and Harden playing only 25 cement-filled minutes. That’s embarrassing. When I said I wanted us to play to win after last game, this is not what I meant. I agree with Charles. You have to do what is an advantage for your players. You can’t ignore what they do well and what they do poorly and just demand they play exactly like some ideal you have. We are not taking advantage of our athleticism to cover for our poor shooting and D limitations (thus far). We don’t push pace. Wiggins needs to be drawn into interest in each game, and the way to do that is get him out in transition. We make no effort to do that. KAT isn’t in the post enough (fine, take 7 threes, but get in the post). He is slow to come up the floor even though he’s one of the fastest, most guard-like C’s in the league. Worst of all, he’s so often the last guy down on offense, trailing in a slow jog. He should be out in front of the play as much as possible. And often, he comes late, and then just stops at the top of the 3 point arc and stands there. This is stupid, lazy offense. And coaching is needed to fix it even if it is KAT’s own bad habits (to the naked eye it just looks like how our offense is run). The half court reliance we have makes us take lots of contested shots, lots of long twos, and to do everything with a completely set, often adjusting D. We can’t make this up with three pointers as we don’t have good enough shooters. Teague, Butler and Wiggins are run of the mill at best behind the arc. For a C KAT is excellent and he’s a bit above average, but that’s it. Taj barely takes them. Butler, Wiggins and KAT are deadly in transition but are hardly used that way. On D, Houston exposed our inability to stop certain things–things they happen to love–three point looks created with good action, and dunks down low from D turned into knots or stretched from late closes toward the perimeter and other kinds of over-commits. Some of these problems seem to get better. We had aspects of these things better during the 5 game winning streak but seem to have forgotten. Thibs doesn’t seem to be able to stem tides with timeouts. He’s not making adjustments, just demanding players execute the one (outdated) thing we do more perfect. And Charles is right–in games like this we are much more boring to watch than we should be. As a fan, that actually means a lot to me. But it isn’t separate from the issues I just ranted about above.

  2. The +/- stats are revealing in this game. Coaches often ride the hot hand – but looking at the minutes played we rode the price tag – not the hot hand. Might be fun to follow the Iowa wolves tonight – I’m not sure that Brown/Jefferson/Patton are ready still – they have been putting together some quality minutes. Long term it might be best that they are playing regular minutes than sitting on our bench (Patton seems to still be on limited minutes) and the 30 year old Milsep brings a veteran presence to their lineup. It seems that they are working on Thibs defensive rotations. Each one is young – each one brings a body type to the roster that we are missing. Patton – young/quick/long, Jefferson SF/PF speed/size/potential floor spacing as well as a passion for rebounding, Brown has size and his 3 pt. shot looks good. Don’t know if he can produce against NBA defense – but he is more athletic than Crawford at 37, and has a size advantage as well. If we don’t pull it together again against this tough series of games, we need to look deeper within our organization. We can’t tank – could still hold 4th or 5th seed in the playoffs, possibly even make the 2nd round, but the fatigue factor at wing needs to be addressed beyond Crawford with Bjelica playing a few minutes. GMH/Jefferson/Brown/Patton – even as 2 way/ rookie players, offer more than Aldrich/Brooks. Crawford would still give us backup insurance a point, and a quick fix trade of an Aldrich/Bazz or Brooks would not bring much – Dieng/Bjelica/Jones are to important longer term to trade for a possible quick fix. It’s time to keep the core together after giving up LaVine/Dunn/Rubio – we once more need to start thinking longer term.

  3. I agree with a lot of what’s in this article: https://www.fanragsports.com/wolves-get-lesson-from-rockets-in-how-efficiency-must-work/

    As the article looks forward toward the end, it makes the assumption that Thibs wants to become more modern and add 3 point shooting. I don’t have any evidence that is how he feels. If it is, adding three point shooting and having it crack our lineup enough to make a difference is still going to be tough. Someone over on Canis pointed out how much money we have tied up in Wiggins and Teague together. That makes it tough to not play them a ton of minutes in the organization’s eyes, or to move them (because their contracts are too meaty) if we want another skill set in their place. But that makes a lot of assumptions about what we want to do with them. Likely we aren’t interested in moving them, although we should be open to it. If we aren’t, the amount of money we pay them ties our hands financially in terms of doing anything. Tier 2 of this is Taj and Gorgui. Taj has been playing great for us, but he’s still an over pay. Gorgui has not playing well. He’s not even close to playing in proportion to what his contract pays him. Trading Gorgui would be hard because of his contract. It might be very tough to dump Aldrich, Shabazz, Hunt, or Crawford on anyone. KAT will want a new contract soon, and if Wiggins is max, what does that make KAT? Given all this, simply building on what we do/have this year is a major challenge. We have not really put ourselves in a good position as far as building goes. Hard to see the path forward we take to improve the roster at all, let alone modernize, assuming Thibs has the slightest interest in that.

    1. Given that Thibs wants to play his starters 35-40 minutes a night means he purposely needs to slow the pace down. He knows that running the fast break constantly wears on you more. However Patton Jefferson and Brown could make a nice second unit with Tyus and Beli. Patton is an amazing runner for a big guy and that could be his ticket to the NBA. He could even inspire Kat!?

  4. I did not see the game, but kinda new this was going to happen after the Magic fiasco. The wolves have not figured out how to play against teams that can hit a lot of threes (which even the Nets and Magic do when we play them)
    They don’t protect the paint, and so the team collapses and let their man shoot open threes or dunks. They rush out at the shooter and he merely sidesteps and shoots the three or worse, he let’s them foul him for three FT. We are a good two point shooting team. Why we don’t force the other team to beat us with twos is a mystery to me. Harden is a great shooter but he only shoots 44% of his twos, but 38% of threes. If Jimmy Butler is forcing Harden off the three point line, not fouling Him when he drives and just contest his two’s, we should be better than allowing him to shoot threes or drive and kick to an open three. It’s even better with Eric Gordon and Chris Paul. They hurt you much more with the three, than the two. We actually shoot a much better percentage from two than Houston does. So why we don’t make them play to our strength is crazy.

    With most of these three point shooting teams, they have no one who can defend KAT and yet he doesn’t score 50 points against them. That is either bad offense or selfish offense. When teams like the Celtics play three PG, why isn’t Andrew and Butler not posting them up and just shooting over the little guys? Finally, why did we pay $19 million for a PG that can’t execute an entry pass? Bottom line is that Thibs may be a terrible offensive coach, but he should know defense. Game after game, we get burnt by guys not named Curry or Harden from three, so why would we not think that Curry and Harden wouldn’t kill us. IF we want to be champs, you have to make teams play your ball. Our ball is more like Spurs ball. A lot of high percentage twos, some threes when they are open and force the other team to try and do the same. I would rather Harden scores 30 from contested drives and tries to beat us by himself, then let him kick to Gordon, Paul, Anderson and Arriza for open threes.

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