2017-18 Season

Warriors 126, Wolves 113: MAILBAG TIME

The Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the Golden State Warriors 126-113 Thursday night, but, to be honest, it wasn’t even that close.

The Warriors controlled this one from start to finish, never trailing at any point throughout the contest. Golden State shot a blistering 21-of-37 from three and were led by Kevin Durant’s triple-double performance (28 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists). Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 50 points on 12-of-18 from behind the arc.

Karl-Anthony Towns led the Wolves in production, posting a line of 31 points, 11 rebounds, to go along with five assists. Jamal Crawford added 21 points in 26 minutes off the bench, Taj Gibson put up yet another double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds), and Jeff Teague finished with 17 points and seven assists. Andrew Wiggins crashed back to Earth with 10 points on 20 scoring opportunities (18 field goals and two free throws).

Finding ways to provide solid insights and analysis breaking down the Wolves performance against the Juggernauts Warriors, especially when the team was without Jimmy Butler (sore knee) for the fourth straight game (word is he’ll be back in action as soon as Saturday), is a nearly impossible feat. What else needs to be said other than the Warriors are the better team and played as such? So instead of attempting to extend the previous sentence into 800 words, I took to Twitter to field questions for a quick mailbag. Without further ado:

Honestly, I think most injuries are kind of boring in their straightforwardness. For example, an ACL tear, which used to be a potentially career-threatening injury, is just a single ligament getting injured (to #wellactually myself quickly, ACL tears rarely happen in isolation, there’s commonly meniscal damage and/or bone bruises that occur as well, but they typically don’t get reported or greatly impact the recovery process/timeline; the ACL damage is what’s important and the rehab has basically become an exact science).

But what I do find fascinating are the injuries that are more complex, such as tendinopathies (a condition that Spurs’ star Kawhi Leonard hass been suffering from all season), disc herniations, and meniscal tears.

Unlike, for example, ACL tears or quadriceps tendon ruptures, tendinopathies (often erroneously referred to as “tendonitis”; -itis refers to an underlying inflammatory process and the current evidence seems to indicated that -opathies and -osises don’t have such processes, but there is some debate) don’t typically have an easily identifiable cause. They’re typically brought on by “improper loading” (which is variable for every individual and, seemingly, kind of random; why were Kawhi’s quads improperly loaded while LeBron’s haven’t been?) leading to degenerative changes in the structure of the tendon. The science has borne out a few treatments that seem to be effective in treating tendinopathies – eccentric (“strengthening while lengthening” of the muscle) loading, various manual therapy techniques, flexibility exercises – but yet, as seen in the Kawhi case, they can be extremely troublesome.

As for meniscal tears and disc herniations, we know that if you took MRIs of the spine and knees of all people aged 20-30 years old, approximately 30-45% would have tears or herniations present and be totally unaware; they have the injury, but they don’t have any symptoms. So when a player complains of vague knee or low back pain without a distinct mechanism of injury (they aren’t acute in nature) and they undergo MR imagining, there’s a good chance that a meniscal tear or disc herniation will be found. But can we be sure those “injuries” are actually the source of their pain? Surgery for these types of injuries in the general public is often just as or less effective than physical rehab, so why are players so quick to go under the knife for their meniscal injuries and disc herniations? (If we’re being honest, it’s because of the money involved in professional sports, but I wonder if we won’t see meniscectomies and discectomies decrease in the future as the scientific evidence accumulates.)

There’s a lot to unpack here!

Teague vs. Tyus: This is likely a debate that exists in varying shades of grey, despite many people’s attempts to make it as black and white as possible. I think it would depend on a few factors, most prominent of which is matchups, but the evidence at the vary least suggests that Jones should get more minutes. I think Jones’ weaknesses would likely get exposed, particularly in the playoffs, if he started every game, but it’s hard to argue against the results we’ve seen the limited starting opportunities he’s been given to this point. This is probably more of a question for next year or the season after.

Bjelica: I’ll put it this way: the fact that Nemanja Bjelica isn’t currently in the MVP discussion is a tragedy.

Muhammad vs. Wolves: Why not both? From the human perspective, it’s hard not to feel at least a little bad for Muhammad. He was given bad intel and it cost him an exorbitant amount of money. Not only that, but placed way too much pressure on himself to earn back that big contract back early in the season, which ultimately led him to fall out of the rotation after failing to perform. As for the Wolves, I think it goes without saying that they dodged a bit of a bullet.

The NBA All-Star rosters (as selected by captains LeBron James and Steph Curry) were announced Thursday afternoon and I think Team Curry is the stronger of the two. I may be biased because both Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler are on the team, but I just think the squad is more well-rounded and comprised of players I really enjoy watching.

There are also more compelling storylines. I think Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green are going to try their hardest to clown Durant; there’s no way that Joel Embiid and Towns aren’t going to try to destroy Kristaps Porzingis; there’s a real possibility that we see a Curry-Harden-Lillard-Antetokoumnpo-Towns lineup, which would be fascinating; and the only really compelling storyline on Team LeBron is that Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, and Durant are all on the same team (#bold prediction: I bet nothing dramatic happens between the three).

Give me Team Curry all day.

No doubt it’s the dunk contest. It’s the best stage for displaying the true freakish athleticism of the players. But if the dunk contest is boring (as it was last year), there really isn’t much that I’m particularly drawn too, to be honest.

The Wolves are next in action on Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets. Tip is set for 8 pm CT.

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7 thoughts on “Warriors 126, Wolves 113: MAILBAG TIME

  1. The game: It was dull. Sadly, I was sort of proud we didn’t get blown away by 40 or something in this game, without Butler. But as Lucas points out, we didn’t really have a chance and it felt like we were being toyed with in the stretches when it got a little close. This was boring because it was so predictable. But it serves up some teaching points. For one, this game gives us a clear picture of how far we are from elite. We have been toying with the 3rd seed as San Antonio deals with some difficult issues, but even they are likely to keep that and beat us in the post season if we face them, issues and all. There is a pretty large body of worse than expected teams in the West, but don’t let that conceal how large a step there is between good teams (Wolves) and great (Golden State). The gap between us and GS may be as great or greater as the gap between us and Phoenix. Not in record, but in true quality of team. By season’s end, in true quality as a team and even in record, we might be in the Portland vicinity.

    Another thing that this game showed is that you shouldn’t (can’t?) count on Wiggins. We needed him to show up to this one with no Jimmy, and he didn’t. He had a run of, what, 3 good games in a row? He was due to crash and did. This isn’t something Towns does. He’s a bit up and down. But he tends to be at least a double-double every night. I think his consistency is taken for granted a bit when you consider Wiggins. In this one he was the only player who did his thing, who really stepped up. Again, Butler hurts us most by not being here on D. We are a disaster on defense without him. As in many games, we are able to produce enough points to expect to win or at least compete but give up far too many points to keep us in the game. If you score 113 you should be able to win a game. But we allowed 126. And when I say we allowed it, that’s just the perfect word. Our D allows stuff. Mostly it allows teams (good ones, anyway) to do exactly what they want to do against us. That’s on the players, but also on the coach. The lack of strategic disruption this team plays with keeps us on our heels against quality opponents. No one played well on D in this game to speak of, but special areas of concern are Wiggins and Teague (more on that later). It’s boring for the league (and the TNT guys) that teams like the Wolves can’t even compete with the top dogs, can’t even make an interesting game against the status quo elite.

    Injury: Personal experience leads me to personal fascination. Bones are weird. If you get a clean break in the middle of the bone it heals on it’s own quite well. So a player would generally rather have a clean break than say a torn ACL. But it would seem that bone growth has a mind of its own. If you break a joint, the bone will likely overgrow. Even with all the advances in medical science, it seems that there isn’t a reliable way to remove excess bone growth, to ensure it won’t just come back and maybe even worse. So, if you break a joint, often, you will permanently lose range of motion. I wonder if anyone is working on that? A better way to control bone growth in sensitive areas like joints after a break… I think this injury happened to Andrew Bogut. It was widely reported that he just dislocated his elbow (as if that’s not bad enough!) but I believe he also broke a bone in it and isn’t able to fully extend his arm. He continued his career (although it may be over now). That’s one tough guy.

    T vs. T: The Tyus debate is very gray for me. Basically, yes, I do think we’d be better with Tyus starting and Teague on the bench. It’s not even about who is better, that Tyus is better so he should be starting. His skills fit a need with the starters, and running the offense, the tone of how it is run, is so important. You know, starting things out right in a possession, pace, good entry passes, etc. Tyus would set us on a good course and his skills fit a need in that lineup while his lack of scoring prowess would be covered by the starters’ scoring. Teague would help give an offense and leadership starved bench a shot in the arm. But if this were to happen, and it WILL NOT baring injury this season–Thibs is about the least experimental human ever–we would see Tyus get exposed in some ways. There would be nights where his underdeveloped scoring game wound be a hindrance, and his D would have issues. I think that’s a cusp issue for us. D problems abound everywhere for us, and you don’t expect PG’s the be that important on D. That’s usually seen as a luxury. But Teague is just getting torched by any scoring PG, just absolutely rocked. Tyus is a better, more avid defender with good instincts. And he’s more athletic than people expected. But he also tends to get torched by perimeter scoring virtuosos. He can get overwhelmed in other ways, too. If he were to start, he would get exposed, but observation and numbers say it would be a plus move for the team. Not one to let facts and statistics bother him on his course, straight and true, this is all massively irrelevant to Thibs.

    Bazz: It’s good that we didn’t have to offer much to get Shabazz back (if we had to, he wouldn’t be here). However, it was unfortunate for him. He seemed to test the waters without a deal and no one was picking him up. So we did. I thought it was mutually beneficial. We didn’t really have money to fill our bench and Shabazz knows the system and can do stuff, and he needed to stay in the NBA. But we are basically taking a roster spot with a guy that gets no burn unless there’s injuries. That’s a wasted roster spot. And as he sits on the bench night after night he edges ever closer to China. I feel we could use him. With how bad Crawford is on D, and how bad Hunt is on O I’m not sure the downside of playing Shabazz a few minutes, and if it’s going well keep him out there some. But I just don’t get how Thibs handles a bench at all.

    All Star: I think this gym class captains All Star thing is dumb. The dunk contest is cool when it’s a good year, but the league seems to do everything they can to make it not good. It’s certainly swimming upstream… I also like the rising stars challenge because I’m interested in young and developing talent.

  2. I stopped watching last night because it looked like the Globetrotters playing the Generals. I was waiting for the water pail with confetti trick. The TNT crew were brutal on the wolves, which only made the team look worse. This had L carved in stone before tip off.

    In Wiggins defense, he was guarded well, because the Ws have guys who can do that. Andrew was still throwing up shots, which is sad, because he doesn’t use his height to shoot over guys, he still loves his turnaround fade away shot (Kobe did it, so I will too) and he tries to drive, but does not have the handle to beat someone good like Iggy off the dribble. He has a lot of work to do.

    T vs T. I have been open about my thoughts on Teague. He should be coming off the bench and not get in the way of KAT, Butler and Wiggins scoring. Tyus isn’t a quality starter, but he sets a better pace than Teague and isn’t the scorer Teague would be off the bench. It’s a case of putting at least one of them in their rightful spot.

    I feel bad for all the bench players behind Crawford, Belly and Tyus. Even G is getting less play and not improving. Baz is Baz. He won’t change, so you pick him up to do what he does or you let him go. Thankfully, he isn’t a long term problem or cost us like Payne did with losing a first round pick. Sadly, to me he will be the guy we picked over Giannis.

    All-star games are all stupid gimmicks made up in 50s to make teams more money and for agents to pad star players contracts. I think all the leagues should dump them and just do skills challenges. Home run derby, dunk contest, hardest slap shot and tire swing passing stuff. Or maybe the Ws versus the best of the other all stars.

  3. This game would’ve been a loss even with Butler. Pyrrol is right. The distance between us and the Warriors is the distance between us and a team like the Suns. We are a very poor man’s version of the Warriors with our supposed big 4.

    The Warriors set their season high in fast break points in this game. We still have huge transition D problems. Even with Butler.

    Would the Wolves’ record with the same roster as last year have a better record now than they did last year?

    Tyus should be starting or playing more minutes with the starters than Teague. This shouldn’t even be a debate. We’ve all seen what happens when Tyus plays with the starters. We all know the numbers. Teague would provide much needed stability, scoring, and leadership off the bench. Tyus gets our offense humming and our defense is peskier.

    Young players are inconsistent. But the rate at which Wiggins is inconsistent is very alarming. I’m afraid he’s going to turn into a Jeff Green, Michael Beasley type player. He teases us with small runs of absolute brilliance but then falls into his normal inefficient shooting self. He’s got too much raw talent for that type of inconsistency. If we’re honest, he hasn’t really developed or improved as a player. He’s marginally better as a player since his rookie year. That is also alarming.

    The Wolves season has mirrored Wiggins’s individual season. They show flashes of brilliance and like we could be a serious contender, but then fall into their normal, inconsistent, and inefficient selves.

    The Wolves have a top 3 team in terms of talent right now. I think the only teams that beat us out in sheer talent are the Warriors and Thunder and you could even make a case for us to be 2nd. We have talented guys on the bench that are underutilized and have had their development stunted by Thibs too strong of reliance on the starters and short leash with the bench. The Thunder and Wolves have yet to play up to their talent level. Part of that is due to coaching strategies, part of it to learning how to play together. We have more talented players than the Rockets. We have more than the Celtics right now (If Hayward were in I’d put them above the Wolves). We have more than the Spurs. We have more talent than the Raptors. We have more than the Cavs. The other teams that are better than us have better coaching and better team chemistry (Well, except the Cavs). The Wolves are more than halfway through the season so chemistry issues should be on the downswing.

    I’m really hoping and believing this team plays like the talent they are. They have yet to do that except for that 5 game win streak. I’m really hoping and believing they can put it together towards the end of the season and get hot going into the playoffs. I’d rather us be hot then, rather than now.

    Here’s to hoping and believing Butler’s injury isn’t serious and the Wolves will figure it out, coaching wise and playing wise.

  4. The Warriors are the closest thing to the Lakers and Celtics of the 80’s, so it is no travesty to lose to such a well-oiled machine. However, when you look at who have beaten the Warriors this year, it breaks down into bad teams like Sacramento, Memphis and Charlotte, mediocre teams like Detroit, the Clippers and Denver OR The better teams in the league Houston, Boston and OKC. Most of the loses have been at home, so last night was a possibility for an upset. The bad team wins are probably due to the W’s looking past them. Of the best teams, only Houston beat the W’s at home, the others were buoyed by home crowds hating KD or the celtic curse. I will compare us to the mediocre teams and the biggest commonality is that they have dominant low post scorers. Actually, except for Sactown, Houston and Boston (which have good big men, but not dominant) everyone who has beaten the Warriors this year has had a good low post game. Well, we have KAT and Taj which should check the box for us too.

    Except for us, the Clippers and Nuggets the rest of the teams have a defensive rating in the top twelve of the league. Hmm. I think we found a clue. Three point shooting. Maybe, but we shoot better percentage than five of the teams that have beaten the Warriors this year. Defending the three, that must be it. Well actually as many teams are above us as below us in that category. Pace of Play. No good team plays up tempo against the W’s and wins. Only the Rockets and Charlotte have comparable pace (top 10) with the W’s and have won. All the others were in the bottom half. Hmm. Another clue.

    So when it comes down to it, the Warriors are beatable, even on their home court and against teams that they had rest for (not a back-to-back). You don’t have to try to out shoot them from three, actually that can get you in more trouble because they will run and pick up the pace on you, but you do have to play solid defense. You have to have a dominant big man. You would think a Thibs team would be built to do this. Hmm

  5. Good way of looking at it, but something I like to emphasize is that, while it is a fool’s errand to try to beat GS at their game, as far as 3 point shooting goes, we have to close the margin to compete. Mathematically, it’s too steep of a hill to climb. We got out shot 21-6 from three or 63 to 18 in points. That’s -45 for us in that aspect of the game. We match up very poorly with them, aside from them being the best team in the league. The only thing we do better is KAT stuff. But as if to illustrate, we actually went with KAT like we should in this game, and he played pretty well and we still got beat into the ground. We need help–we can’t win on KAT alone against this type of team. In order to beat them on a non-freak basis, we have to close the 3 point gap. We have to defend the three better, and chase them off the line. We have to attack their modes of creating good three point looks instead of playing right into their game plan. And yes, we have to shoot and make a few more threes to help shrink that margin a little. This will help us beat many other teams, too.

  6. Pyrrol, your analysis is inaccurate regarding three point shooting. Last night the W’s made 50% of their points from threes. They made a higher percentage than they normally do (partly because they sometimes do and partly because we don’t defend the three worth a darn). Normally, if the Warriors shoot 39 threes they would have made 21 less points. The Wolves made 18% of their points from threes. Normally we would have made 21 points with that many shots. If we just kept them to their average and we shot ours, we would have won by 11 points last night. The reason is that we are shooting two’s instead of threes more often with our possessions and so that -45 would be more like a -11. Factoring in another key component, which is FT and we can certainly beat this great team.

    How does one keep G State, or any other team we play, from shooting such a high percentage of threes? Having Jimmy Butler in the game would make a big difference. He hits clutch threes and he stops players from hitting threes. Playing bigger would be smart. Having a team of KAT, Taj, Belly, Wiggins and Butler would be a smart move. That would allow us to switch and keep a bigger player on everyone except KD in front of them. Here is where Rubio was helpful. As a taller PG, he could switch and play multiple defenders. Teague and Tyus just can’t. I don’t know if Thibs can think like that, but playing smaller, slower guys on Curry, Thompson and others is suicide.

    That would entice the Warriors to shoot more twos. Now, last night it was embarrassing how easy the W’s cut and got wide open lay-ins. Having longer arms might deflect some of those passes or force a couple misses. All of those reduce that -11. I would rather have them make a two, then shoot threes. It makes us panic and rush and shoot threes in a hurry. To beat the Warriors, we have to think like Tony Dungy did with Tampa Bay playing the rookie Randy Moss Vikings. Slow the pace, reduce turnovers, score with your bigs at a high rate down low, shoot FT and keep taller players out there that can guard multiple positions and not let them get open threes. If we can do that, we can beat the Warriors and eliminate those stupid losses from the Nets, Magic, Carolina and Phoenix at the same time.

  7. But that’s just it–They DID shoot 21 of 37 from three and we DID 6 of 20. To a greater or lesser degree that’s going to happen every time we face GS or another three happy, talented team. We normally don’t shoot enough threes well enough to beat talented teams that play a more efficient style than us, but in GS’s case, their D is so good that we can’t even expect to hit our average amount of threes against them. On the other side, we do nothing defensively to stop GS from getting all the good 3 point looks they want, and the majority of the time they’ll shoot better than average against us. That’s what I mean when I say we match up poorly with them, which makes a bad situation worse as they are the most talented team.

    So admittedly this game may have been a bit of an extreme case, and having Butler’s D and the milquetoast perimeter shooting he provides will help a bit. But overall we are going to have the same problem over and over with GS and probably teams of similar style.

    How does one keep GS from shooting a high percent (and volume) of threes? That question is haunting the NBA, and I’ve not researched it enough to have any good ideas that aren’t basic. What I have noted, is that not only is the Wolves D underdeveloped at this point, but they have trouble stopping what the best and most efficient teams like to do most–basically an inside out game that searches out as many dunks/layups and good three point looks as possible. We are horrible about losing track of people in the paint, and letting people get to the rim. And though KAT is at the embryonic stages of rim protection, it’s a total team meltdown. The other thing these teams want is to create lots of decent 3 point looks. They water down the defense down low by stacking the perimeter, so you get guys forgotten about or with one defender to beat in the paint. Then there is an array of folks waiting for threes to pass out to. Back and fourth between this. Most coaches also have an arsenal of action and plays to help create three point looks, have a developed pick and roll game, and emphasize snappy passing to help generate three point looks. Most of these teams also have had GM’s that focus more on shooting talent than we have. Shooting isn’t really Wiggins’ thing, not Butlers’, esp 3 point shooting. Our C may be our best 3 point shooter. Crawford is a shooter, but one that is extremely streaky and takes lots of bad shots. So, we tend to have the most trouble defending and scoring enough against the most efficient teams in the league and they start out with an efficiency advantage which is compounded by how we match up with them, fall into their game plan and what they want to do.

    Great point about Rubio’s size. It makes switches much less risky, for one, and it helps with perimeter D to have to height to shoot over. We don’t have this in the starting lineup anymore, or even a gear change bench version. All our PG’s are 6’2″ and under. I knew Teague was not a good defender when he came here, but I’m shocked how bad he is. And in moments he looks good, but he basically is major reason we are so bad against 3 ‘n’ dunk teams–that’s where he gets exposed, and that’s what this team has the most trouble with. It makes little sense that D minded Thibs couldn’t wait to dump Rubio for Teague. I’d like to see more Tyus, but there’s only so much we can do to shore up PG perimeter D with who we have.

    In essence, Thibs is currently using a poorly executed version of your ‘Tampa Strategy’. It’s an abject failure against the 3 ‘n’ dunk teams. Over at Canis folks were arguing about the slowing of the pace strategy. In my mind, it won’t work. You have to use pace in a way that helps you get the looks you want as a team. Often, pushing pace will lead to easier looks before the D is set. But you can’t push it all the time. It will inflame your ability to get down quickly if things aren’t going right and it’s exhausting. And sometimes your best looks come from deliberately run half court sets over the course of a shot clock. But, conversely, you can’t just run a super slow pace all game as a strategy to mess up GS. It will keep you from being able to score enough to compete with them, esp if you are trading a limited amount of 2’s with a limited amount of 2’s and 3’s. Slowing the pace can so easily backfire too, because while it might throw off a team, it’s just as likely to throw off your momentum on offense, maybe more (you playing at a slow pace will slow the game some, but they are still free to run their pace how they choose). And it does nothing to counter the 3 ‘n’ dunks thing. Even at a slower pace, a team like GS finds ways to play very efficient ball, limiting shots to at the rim or 3 point line as much as possible (which we aren’t doing). If the Tampa thing were to work, it would have to include a really good defensive team, such as the Tony Allen era Grizzlies. We aren’t even an average defensive team. Our offensive prowess is a strength but it’s a bit of a mirage at this point. And even if you put together a dream slow pace, two heavy, good offensive team with hard nose D, it’s still not the type of team that will compete with the top teams for a championship. And that’s the best that strategy has to offer. As it is, we are caught not being able to be a dunk ‘n’ 3 team at all, on personnel alone. And Thibs will never agree to this. Fine with me, I find extreme 3 ‘n’ dunk teams boring (although GS’s version of it is pretty good watchin’. Houston? Ugg) and it may be a bit of a fad or code that will be broken at some point. However, my point isn’t that we should emulate GS. That’s not our style. That’s not our personnel at all. And who can outdo GS at what they do? It’s a losing bet to say the least. I’m for variety in the league. However, math tells me we need to cut down the 3 deficit some to compete at a high level in the league right now. Just cut down on it some, that’s all…

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