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Wolves 116, Pelicans 98: A 50-Win Pace

Fifty wins is a noteworthy amount for a number of reasons.

First and most importantly, it represents something of a threshold number for a playoff team to be taken seriously.  Whether it earns a 7 seed or a 3, a 50-win season means that a team is for real and not only earned a playoff berth, but it can potentially win a playoff series — maybe even a couple of them, depending on how things break.  While a 50-win season probably won’t end with a championship, there have been a few past title winners that won fewer than 50 games, so the concept isn’t entirely unrealistic.

Second, 50 is just a nice, clean, even number with a lot of common areas of significance.  It’s half of 100 and a team cannot win one hundred games — they only play 82 of them.  Fiftieth birthdays and wedding anniversaries are celebrated.  There are 50 states in the U.S.A.  There’s a rapper named 50 Cent.  There is an erotic romance novel turned movie called Fifty Shades of Grey.  And as Wikipedia explains, “In the 1994 action movie Speed, which depicts a Los Angeles cop (Keanu Reeves), who must rescue civilians on a bus that has a bomb rigged to it which will detonate if the bus’s speed drops below 50 mph.”

Fifty is just a number with a lot of meaning in many contexts.

Finally, for this Timberwolves team, a 50-win season represents a realistically ambitious goal.  If they win 50 games this year, that represents success.  They will have succeeded Las Vegas’s “over/under” mark of 48.5 wins.  They will have made the playoffs.  They might even have home-court advantage for the first round.

Fifty wins would be good.

Tonight’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans — a blowout affair in which the Wolves led the entire way — sets them on a clean 50-win pace at the season’s midway point.  They have played 41 games.  They have won 25 of them.  If they go 25-16 again, in the second half of the season, they will finish 50-32.

This game was not close.  It was never close.  The Wolves jumped out to a 12-point lead after the first quarter, beginning the game was quick ball movement generated by exploiting mismatches in the post and looking for perimeter shooters.  Andrew Wiggins kickstarted the offense, and almost everybody took their turn at various points in the game.  They led by 27 points late in the first half, and later built as big as a 34-point lead.  They eventually won by 18 points.  To the Pelicans credit (I guess?) the continued to play their best players despite the huge margin, and eventually cut that lead into the teens, but the game was never in any serious doubt.

The Pelicans were channeling all of their energy toward pushing the ball in transition.  Whether off of a Wolves make or miss, they were absolutely shoving the ball up the floor to look for quick baskets.  Perhaps the idea was to tire out the Wolves, who were playing their 5th game in 7 nights.  The strategy made sense, in theory.  The problem with it was that the Wolves were scoring way too much and the Pelicans never, at any point, jacked up their defensive intensity to meet the challenge.  They didn’t bring their A game or even their B game and the Wolves stepped on their throat in the first half and never really looked back.

The plus-minus numbers suggest that the bench was their typical bad selves, but that isn’t really a fair takeaway.  They were huge in the late first and early second quarter, extending the lead built by the starters and establishing the game as a clear-cut blowout.  Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng had some nice two-man action on offense.  Dieng battled DeMarcus Cousins on defense for a nice stretch that allowed Towns — who had staggered in with the bench guys — to go off with scoring and rebounding.

The starters’ scoring was balanced.  Towns and Butler led with 21 a piece.  Wiggins had 20.  Taj had 15.  Tyus, who did a great job pushing the pace and attacking in transition, had 10 points.  All of them were heavy positives in the +/-, ranging from Tyus’s (+14) to Jimmy’s (+25).

Wolves versus Pelicans games are fun for the simple reason that Karl-Anthony Towns gets a chance to take his talents to the other top big men in the NBA: Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.  That all three played for John Calipari at Kentucky is a coincidence and an additional symbol of their respective talent levels.  Coach Cal tends to get the dudes with the most talent and the most upside, and KAT, Brow, and Boogie most definitely have the most talent and the most upside in the NBA.

Thibs joked about Towns after the game, saying that he finally got to play a game against the Pelicans.  He had terrible foul trouble (and all-around struggles) in the two previous games this year against the Pels, which the Wolves improbably won despite his poor performance.  In this game tonight, KAT continued his play of the last month.  He looked like an All-NBA stud once again, posting all-around stats of 21 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 assists.  Thibs credited his improved preparation for games.

The season’s first half is now complete.  Twenty fives wins down, hopefully twenty five (or more!) to go.

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9 thoughts on “Wolves 116, Pelicans 98: A 50-Win Pace

  1. Hold your horses. 50 wins isn’t a given, especially with how this team still sucks in the 4th. Plus, our schedule gets harder. Don’t get your hopes up yet. They’ve definitely got the talent to win 50+. But the coaching is not there.

    Wins like tonight are great. Everyone was scoring which is fun. But the my turn, your turn offense isn’t a recipe for success. The Thunder figured that out earlier this year and look dangerous. It doesn’t hurt they have a top 5 defense as well.

    1. I see your negative comments on every article. If you can’t enjoy the first success this team has had in over a decade, why do you watch? Sports are supposed to be fun. Instead of enjoying wins, it’s always “yeah, well they probably will stop winning because…” That’s a horrible way to live life.

      I don’t get Wolves fans. It’s this entitled attitude that nothing is ever good enough; you’d think that the Wolves were the Spurs or something based on the lofty standards applied where simply winning (which has been RARE forever) is not good enough.

      Sure, Thibs isn’t the best coach. He has serious flaws. But who else was going to coach this team? Remember when the team tried to get a coach, and Flip had to hire himself? We’re Loserville USA. No one wants to come here. Same with free agents. You can be armchair GM and say they should have signed so-and-so or paid less for who they did sign all you want; it doesn’t change that in real life, the players actually have to want to come here.

      Thats why getting to the playoffs and having a legit superstar is so important, even if they never win a title. This losing culture needs to change before the franchise can ever get better.

      I swear some of you would rather watch any of the last years’ teams with their fun-but-no-expectations play. I guess “hope” and imaging what could be five years from now is better than the reality of them actually winning (but winning ugly)?

      I don’t get the whole fan mentality that it’s championship or bust. Unless you’re one of the few teams in the league or win the lottery with an undervalued superstar at just the right time (Golden State), you’re not winning a championship. That’s fine. At least we’re competitive and are playing meaningful games. And should for the forseeable future. We won’t be the Spurs, but can we be Toronto? Isn’t that good enough? Why can’t we enjoy that?

      Complaining consistently about Thibs, Wiggins and Rubio is asinine. The bed has been made. Thibs will be here for years. They’re not trading Andrew. Rubio is not coming back. Instead of harping on what you hate, if you’re truly a fan why not try to have fun?

      /rant

      1. Brandon, I think you could follow, “Sure, Thibs isn’t the best coach” instead with, “Popovich and Carlisle are better. Stevens probably is too. But he’s one of the best coaches.” If his flaws were serious he wouldn’t have such a long record of success.

        1. I guess I mean I’m not blinded to the fact that there are concerns about Thibs and whether his methods will work with the young guys, his minutes distribution, and whether his defensive schemes work as well in the modern NBA. It’s fine to have concerns and get frustrated.

          But I don’t know why we expect perfection. He’s not the coaches you listed, but neither are all the other NBA coaches. Plus, he’s as good as we realistically could have gotten. Who else was beating down our door? So my point is don’t let unrealized hopes be the enemy of having fun. The wolves are soooo much better than they’ve been in forever. Enjoy it. Sure the season will end in heartbreak, but so will the seasons of every team save one.

          Enjoy the wins, don’t freak out about the losses. Have fun.

          1. Couldn’t agree more. I’m looking forward to the back half of the season more than I ever have as an adult Wolves fan…and that’s awesome.

  2. I think DemBluez is not trying to be negative, but realistic. You can look forward to the future and still feel that the coach has not been what Andy calls “one of the best coaches”, or that we have beaten anyone of significance with a full line-up yet. We haven’t beat Golden State, Houston, Boston, San Antonio,Cleveland or Washington.

    Past success with Chicago had as much to do with the lack of great teams in the East at that point, than a greatness of coaching style. He was not coaching successfully at the end of his time with Chicago when the development of a new style of basketball, which he still hasn’t really embraced (even if his ICE defense is a big reason for this new style of corner threes and spreading out and moving Centers away from the paint.). His claim to fame has as much to do with his assistant coaching, which when you are coaching defense to a team with KG, isn’t really hard. He is notorious for overworking his starters to the point of injury and not developing a bench that can provide different looks for defenses to prepare for. He has, for most of the year, totally wasted valuable TO at the end of games, even though his team was winded and could use a breather. In fact, you could make the case that Thibs, has been anything but “one of the best coaches.”

    It has been difficult watching this team, even with its success, because there hasn’t been a signature win against one of the top six teams in the league. The East has been very difficult for the Wolves to play against and until last night, we haven’t had many games where all of our big three are all having good nights. However, we have made hay with our own division and the West (not Phoenix) and that helps. This home stand will go a long ways towards defining how good the Wolves are going to be. When Teague comes back from injury and IF Bjelly ever plays to the same standard he had at the beginning of the year, we will have a team that should be competitive in the West and a 50 win season should be a reasonable expectation. However, DemBluez is right that we haven’t seen a coach that makes game decisions that have really been awe-inspiring and after 13 years, we can’t help but be skeptical about this team.

  3. Wow we kicked butt in that one! It was satisfying to just take care of business and fire on all cylinders. I felt like KAT was particularly good in this one. He went up against two of the best bigs in the league (he’s had problems with them, esp with foul trouble in the past) and they really had no answer for him. Is it just me or is Davis a shell of himself playing alongside Boogie? (It was funny when Jim called Boogie out for being unlikable… so true). He just looks like such a normal inconsistent player now compared to how he was earlier in his career. Anyhow, KAT has the chance to take the mantle away from guys like Davis as the best young big in the west if the Wolves are successful in the post season. Davis has taken NO nowhere.. NO is such a weird thrown together roster. We have our issues with how we are put together, but they make us look balanced.

    Love those lime unis! Maybe winning like this will encourage us to wear them more. Even my dad likes them.

    I have to say, we really were clicking. But at some point we just exploded and got a giant lead and seemed to crush the spirits of NO. But we didn’t play that well the last part of the game (and don’t blame this on the bottom of the bench, they didn’t get thrown our there until very late). It didn’t matter in this one, NO was already steamrolled. However, you could see that Thibs was unhappy(er than usual).

    I reluctantly have to come out and defend Bluez slightly here. Yes, he’s cartoonishly negative and it can get old, and I myself am often negative. But he has some good point sometimes and the negativity isn’t without good cause. For one thing, this team is AMAZINGLY not fun to follow for a team with a 25-16 record. For what feels like forever I’ve been waiting for a Wolves team to have a record like this. Now that it’s here, it’s not how I imagined it would be. Specifically, it’s not as fun. It’s not like it’s not fun at all. It’s really cool in some ways. But Thibs has us play a pretty boring style. The roster is changed enough that I don’t feel super invested in it yet. Of all our players, I really only love to watch KAT. Cheering for Tyus is also fun. In sheer dominance Butler is nice to have esp at end of game, but he’s never going to be one of my favorite players to watch or even one of my favorite Wolves to watch of all time. And I don’t think that’s a personal failing on my part. I straight up don’t like Wiggins at this point. I almost feel like cheering against him at moments. There’s other guys I like.. Gibson, Gorgui, but they aren’t super fun, either.

    It’s a little odd to rant about someone being overly negative and then proceed to say of Thibs, ‘Who else would coach this team? We’re Loserville USA.’ It’s simply not true that Thibs was the only coaching option for this club. Taylor pulled a Thibs/Teague thing by jumping on Thibs to lock him in here as quick as he could. We hardly got to hear rumors or see the realistic options before it was over. But I guarantee we had other options. To some, ripping on Thibs constantly might look silly. But to guys like me acting like he’s but a small step below Pop and Carlisle (look how he’s already turning cruddy Dallas around) is at least equally silly. Deference to power in this country in general is crazy lately. Thibs’ track record is doing well with one team, a really good roster, for a number of years at his first head coaching spot in a time of historic weakness in the east. We don’t have to except everything he does as the actions good coach with long success. His resume of head coaching isn’t unimpeachable and we shouldn’t use it to excuse ineffective coaching, bad style of play and child ear burning swearing courtside. Ha, I mean ‘Stevens is PROBABLY better than Thibs!?’ ‘Probably one of the best coaches?’ Seriously? I guess I can admit this is a fun moment in Wolves history if we can generally admit that Thibs isn’t one of the best coaches in the NBA.

    I’m really excited to see what we do with the upcoming schedule. We have no real signature win. I think that is more than a cheap optics thing. It’s something to worry about until we prove we can compete against top, healthy, teams when they are playing well. Going into this tough stretch will be particularly fun with KAT stepping up as he has.

  4. Lol. I am pretty negative, I’m aware. Sometimes it’s over the top and that’s just frustration right after a bad game.

    There are lots of coaches better than Thibs. Pop, Stevens, Carlisle, Kerr, Casey, D’antoine, Billy Donovan, Spolestra, Budenholzer, Snyder, Brooks, Lue, any Spurs assistant ;), I don’t know about Fizdale but he had the Grizzlies playing great basketball until Conley’s injury. Some of those may be disputable, but as of now, all look like more attractive options than who we currently have. With the roster we have assembled, we would have no problem finding another coach.

    25-16 isn’t too shabby of a record. That is a good thing. At this rate, we will make the playoffs. BUT we are playing below expectations and that is what’s frustrating at the end of the day. We haven’t beat a premiere team like Tom said. A lot of the issues we have though point to the strategies implemented by the coach. For this team to truly reach it’s potential, I do not believe that Thibs is the right coach for this team. And I think a lot of people would agree with me on that.

  5. For all his faults, I do think that Thibs will be good for this roster in the near term. Elevating minutes of players that are stars to the level stars play at in this league is not a crime. Sometimes young lottery players like Wiggins and KAT need to be shown that winning doesn’t come easy (Even Golden State has to work hard every night to be as excellent as they have been.) You can’t just put up 20 points and say I did my share. Even KAT getting 20/10 isn’t enough if you want to be the best. Butler and Gibson have been good teammates for our two young wolves and we are starting to see glimpses of improvement, even from young Captain Casual in team defense and putting out an overall game.

    No one expects this team, this year, to via for a Championship. Getting a top four seed is extremely rarified air for a franchise that hasn’t had a sniff of the playoffs in a generation. IF that is what Thibs gives us, than he has done his job for this year. Where I have an issue is with Thibs as the long term solution to this franchise. I thought Flip, like Thibs, was good for player development and getting to the playoffs. He just wasn’t the guy that could lead you to a championship. You need a guy that understands the give and take of a series and how to adjust to new strategies thrown at you from the opposition. I think Thibs has been lacking in that department, both with the Bulls, and in the short term, with the Wolves.

    More importantly, I think that Glen needs to reevaluate his decision to give Thibs/Layden the keys to the GM and POBO roles. Look at how Detroit has improved with Van Gundy reduced to just coaching. Owners need to see that the interests of the coach need to be met, but with an eye on the league and long-term goal of winning a championship. RC Buford probably agrees with 90% of POP’s ideas for his team. It is the 10% that makes him worth every penny. Getting players that fit POP system from under every rock and couch cushion is something that the Thibs/Layden team hasn’t done very well. If this team is to get to a championship, we will need to find those late picks, international players, G league players, etc. that can cost-effectively support Butler, KAT and Wiggins. If not, than we better be happy with a fourth seed because that may be all we get.

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