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Wolves 120, Blazers 103: Different Times in ‘Sota

The first live stand-up show I saw was in 2004 or 2005, and had a bit about being a Kansas City sports fan.  The comic described the torture that the Chiefs always put their fans through, playing well enough to raise their fans hopes, only to let them down in big playoff moments.  He then pivoted toward the Royals, joking about how they don’t “mess” around, playing so badly, so consistently, that fans never have to open up their hearts to be broken in the playoffs.

A quick review of the Chiefs suggests he was thinking back to their stretch of seasons from 1990 through 1997.  They made the playoffs 7 times out of 8 seasons, but never reached the Super Bowl.  The Royals actually won the World Series in 1985, but then proceeded to miss the playoffs entirely from 1986 through 2013, a stretch of 27 seasons over 28 years (the strike canceled the ’94 Playoffs).

The city’s sports pairing is comparable to the football-basketball combination in Minneapolis.

Being a Minnesota Vikings fan has, throughout their existence, been defined by gut punches and misery.  Older fans remember the 4 Super Bowl appearances and 4 Super Bowl losses.  They remember the team that some consider the best of that era, taken down by Drew Pearson’s last-second catch in the NFC Championship when he got away with offensive pass interference.  They remember Darrin Nelson dropping the pass that might’ve taken them to the 1987 Super Bowl.  Fans my age remember 1998, the 15-1 Randy Moss-led juggernaut that was upset by the Falcons when Gary Anderson missed a short field goal that would’ve sent them to the Super Bowl.  And Viking fans of almost all ages remember 2009, Brett Favre, Bountygate, the fumbles, the too-many-men-on-the-field, the interception, and the overtime loss.

Following the Timberwolves has been a lot like following the Royals must have been throughout the 90s and 00s.  I don’t really need to rehash the whole “haven’t made the playoffs since 2004” thing for this reading audience.  But it’s worth remembering that perpetual Wolves losing is not confined to the ongoing stretch; they began their existence with terrible season after terrible season, burning through 5 coaches in their first 7 seasons of existence.  Also, making the playoffs by itself is not much of an accomplishment in the NBA.  Over half the teams do it and almost all of them have no realistic chance of winning the title.  In the Wolves history, 2004 was the only time fans ever even considered the possibility that they could win it all.  Even with KG, Wolves fans almost never allowed themselves to be seriously hurt by a playoffs loss.

This background and city-sports comparison brings us to yesterday.

First, this:

Let’s watch that again:

https://twitter.com/Vikings/status/952737772321767424

This play is the opposite of Minnesota Vikings.  This type of unrealistic touchdown to win a playoff game is supposed to happen AGAINST the Vikings.  Every Vikings fan who watched yesterday’s game had the same reaction, after calming down.  This isn’t what happens to this team.

About an hour after Diggs strolled into the end zone, the Wolves and Blazers tipped off across downtown at Target Center.  The Wolves went on to win the game easily, their 5th straight win on a 5-game homestand.  The final score was 120-103.  After a sluggish first quarter, the Wolves outscored the Blazers 26-10 in the 2nd and 34-31 in the third, putting the game mostly out of doubt for the duration of the game.  Benches were emptied at the 4-minute mark in the fourth.

The Blazers are not a bad team — after last night’s L they are 22-21 and would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.  Yet, the Wolves beat them easily.  The Knicks are, likewise, not bad.  The Wolves beat them by double digits on Friday.  The Thunder were supposed to be better than the Wolves, and lost by 16 at Target Center last Wednesday.  LeBron’s Cavs were absolutely annihilated in Minneapolis last Monday.  And the Pelicans, another Western playoff contender, lost by 18 at Minnesota in the game before that.

The Wolves are now 29-16, winning almost two third of their games.  They are a half game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the third spot in the West.  They’re 3 games behind the Rockets for the 2-seed.  They have the 4th ranked offense in the NBA and will catch the Raptors in third with another strong scoring output.  Their defense, one of the league’s worst last season and the first part of this one, is up to 18th overall.  Over the last 15 games, to highlight where all of this is trending, the Wolves have had the league’s best offense and 7th best defense.  In Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, they have two players who will make All-NBA teams.

This team is on pace to be the franchise’s second best in its 29-year history.  Rather than numb over the fans with 50-plus losses and another draft lottery, this team is forcing fans to open up their hearts and adjust to real stakes.

In Kansas City, the Chiefs have continued to break hearts.  In 2016, they went 12-4, only to lose immediately to the Steelers in their first playoff game.  Last week, they blew a big halftime lead to lose to the Titans, ending their season.

The Royals, however, did the unthinkable.  First, in 2014, they actually made the playoffs; the first time since winning the Series in ’85.  They swept the American League rounds and battled the San Francisco Giants to the 9th Inning of Game 7, losing 4-3.  More KC heartbreak.  But rather than resign to defeat, the Royals came back stronger the following season, won their division, and finished the entire job.  They beat the Mets to win the 2015 World Series, something that seemed laughably improbable to anyone following baseball throughout the 90s and 2000s.

Whether the Vikings can ride the momentum from Diggs’s catch all the way to Super Bowl glory is anyone’s guess.  But the play itself signals change.  The Timberwolves have been consistently good for a half season and are trending in a positive direction.  If they can stay healthy, we will have playoff basketball for the first time since George W. Bush’s first term.

A wild Vikings playoff win paired with a long, dominant Wolves winning streak… it all feels different.

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7 thoughts on “Wolves 120, Blazers 103: Different Times in ‘Sota

  1. Even when they were winning early, this team was painful and unpleasant to watch. I was legitimately considering cancelling the Sling subscription currently delivering me their games.

    The last few weeks, aesthetically and in every other way, watching their games has actually brought pleasure. Generally tight games like the Knicks and OKC wins don’t feel like traumas to endure, but exciting games that are entertaining. The Cavs undressing was one of the most fun basketball games I’ve watched. Even losses like to Brooklyn just feel different. It was a bad shooting night and they happen…rather than feeling portentous of something much worse.

    I don’t know that this is a team that can win the title this year. But I’m grateful that I’ll at least enjoy the ride.

  2. Last nights game was a great ending to a great week home of basketball. Now we get two home games the rest of the month and play a tough schedule on the road with just a couple one day home games (The NBA scheduler must hate us. We travel as far as any team and you make home games feel like road ones. Not fair.) My hope is that we go 5-5 in the next ten. If we beat the ones we should beat (Magic, Clippers, Nets, Hawks and Bucks at home) we can do it. If we have a melt-down against one of them, beating the Blazers last night, may give us the ability to beat them in Portland. As for the rest, Houston, Golden State, and Toronto twice will be major challenges, especially if Hardin and Curry are available.

    Typically, the young wolves would look ahead to playing a big team like Houston and overlook Orlando and get beat, only to lose a close one in Houston too. With the vets we have, I do believe we will go get the wins that are in our favor and still play close in those big games and maybe pull off an upset or two.

    The maturation of Wiggins, KAT and Tyus Jones has been fun to watch the last month or so. I’m sure Thibs had his doubts that the young guys would evolve, but lately KAT has been a force in almost everything, Wiggins getting rebounds, blocks and an assist is crazy good to see and Tyus has actually made the team better. I floated between the ESPN telecast and the FSN telecast and actually preferred our guys to Hubie.. I use to love Hubie, but he is mailing it in most nights. Sad, because he was one of the first former coaches that said what he felt and knew something too.

  3. THAT PLAY! THE MINNEAPOLIS MIRACLE!

    After having my nerves frayed to nubs by the Vikings game, the Wolves game was a nice, relaxing thing to have on. Actually, it was a little hard to focus on after being wiped out by the Vikes. It didn’t help that this game not only wasn’t exciting, it wasn’t competitive at all.

    Portland might not be a bad team, but they also aren’t a good team. I know our D is getting a lot better as of late, but they ‘only’ got 21 and 18 from Lillard and McCollum and no one else on the team did anything. They were tired and flat, but they don’t have any margin for error on off nights anymore. Nice to see Connaughton play well. He’s an interesting young bench guy. Basically no one else showed up.

    I tend to agree with Ian. It isn’t going too far to say this team was painful and unpleasant to watch much of the 1st half. In the last 5-6 games there has been a complete turnaround in this regard and it is quite stunning. It’s not just aesthetic. We are hammering everyone from teams we should destroy to finals teams. It isn’t a coincidence that we are doing this while playing the aesthetic style of basketball, because it turns out there is more to it than aesthetics. It’s harder to play against a team that pushes pace, takes enough threes and avoids predictable iso ball. Ball movement is key and we finally have the chemistry to move the ball along the Spurs’ model.

    Jim Pete was kinda a d-bag last night. At one point he called fans myopic in regard to Tyus vs. Teague. He spent a period of time saying how great Teague is and how he’s a better player than Tyus. Okay, Okay. But he didn’t cite any evidence. Of course Teague is a better scorer. What else is he better at? He gets more assists in a box score. But he doesn’t actually look like a better passer. Might it be that he just hogs the ball more, resulting in single pass and shoot plays that tally assists, while Tyus initiates ball movement offense early that actually makes him less likely to be the one who gets the assist? Anyhow, it’s not an open and shut enough case to call the fans myopic about recognizing that Tyus does some things better than Teague. That’s just trashy and well below him.

    Wiggins was lights out in this one. Man, he’s inconsistent. I think there is a general uptick in all the stuff that he does, so the average of what we are getting from him is gradually on the upswing. But good game from him.

    Our distribution was mega even among the starters. All 11, the blip being Teague getting 15. I mean it’s just one game and following attempts game to game is silly. Still, Teague is a known ball hog and about the last person among the starters you want leading attempts. Heck, if Taj leads us you know he’s getting a lot of dunks. Teague did this while shooting 53% though. Except that was the lowest % among the starters… This goes up to the myopic paragraph. Yeah, a ball hog PG who isn’t as hot as he thinks he is as a scorer might not be ideal for this roster…

    With this team, the way they are playing, it’s getting hard to tell if everyone sucks or we just rule. I think the NBA and the West specifically, is not ending up to be as good as we thought. There are some bad teams, a lot floating around .500 and only a handful of really good teams. The East has 5 teams above that .500ish or below range. The West has only 4. So, at this point the odds of us running into a team that is better than us on any given game is pretty low.

    In terms of the MN thing and how it relates to the Wolves, Andy said, ‘Rather than numb over the fans with 50-plus losses and another draft lottery, this team is forcing fans to open up their hearts and adjust to real stakes.’ My heart really isn’t that open to this team. It might be that numbness takes a long time to wear off. I just am not that invested. I think it is for two reasons. As good as we look, I still have doubts we can do real damage come playoff time. They sort of have to prove that one to me before I’ll believe. I might get there before the playoffs, but most of they season they haven’t really looked like a relevant playoff team–it’s still a 5-6 game thing. Wait and see is where I am. Second, this team has some likability work to do for me. Part of that is turnaround and new guys. The unfairness of dumping Rubio (who played his butt off here) for Teague still hurts. I’m still getting a feel for the new guys. Taj is cooler than I expected, it’s taken me some time to warm up to Jimmy (despite his clear helpfulness) and Teague isn’t someone I’ve been able to warm to. I stopped liking Wiggins a while ago, but that could change if he keeps getting better. I like KAT a lot. But there is something missing when you compare that to the Vikes. Under Zim they’ve always been solid on D (unlike the Wolves who treat it as an afterthought). The Vikes are loaded with important, young underdogs like Diggs, Thielen and Case. Those are guys no one even expected to stick in the league and look at them now. On the Wolves, only Butler fits into that category, but he’s been a star in the NBA so long that his underdog luster has all but worn off. Everyone else is a high pick, high expectation guy. And some of them have been prone to coasting, used to just being better because they were born that way. You could see it in Diggs’ reaction after the miracle. When he got chocked up it was because he’s worked his butt off, while most often being ignored or having to hear naysayers. All the time, he believed he could do great things and he worked his butt off to even get a look or an opportunity to show what he can do. And to have a moment after all the hard work, all the times being ignored and overlooked, where the world knows what you can do is a dream come true. Sadly, that’s not a very Wolvesy thing at this point…

  4. I agree that Petey spouts the corporate line way to much. He loved Rubio and felt he was a maestro in running a team, until we got Teague and now Teague is just better. I think Tyus playing in Teague absence was a godsend to this team. I think they found their flow and now Teague has to adjust to help continue that. He has been a thief more and moves the ball better, yet still does his tear drop and more consistent shooting, which has made the team better. I still think he would be better as the leader of the second unit, another quality scorer to replace a Wiggins or Butler with Crawford and G or Bjelly, but at $19mill, fat chance.

    Teague is a better fit in Thibs old offense of ISO ball than Rubio, but this team rolls when the ball moves through KAT and Jimmy. It may have got this way with Jeff Teague never getting hurt, but Tyus was the PG when the team started to find itself and Petey knows it. My worry is that the front office is telling the broadcast team to shape the narrative to support the coach. They want to squelch any rumblings that Tyus is just as good as Teague with the first unit, because they don’t have another $19 mill to pay Mr Jones this summer.

  5. Corporate line…. Yes, it impacts the video booth – but also the coaching minute distribution. We have some very good players – depth is very strong in a couple areas – Post/Point – combined with 3 wings who play at a high level – if Wiggins/Butler/Crawford stay healthy and yes both Teague and Jones – this team has the ability to go into and perhaps through the playoffs. Don’t know that we match up well against GS/Boston or the Rockets – but would expect to win a few games even against these teams should we make it that far. Aldrich/Bazz/Brooks are three slots likely to be open 2018-9 season. GMH/Patton/Brown/Jefferson – likely to all play Vegas and compete for roster positions – KAT – Wiggins – Butler – Jones should be untouchable, Dieng/Gibson/Bjelica – could be in a battle for two positions – longevity possibility to Bjelica/Dieng – depending on the “maturity” – the defensive tough mindset, Gibson (who really helped change the culture) may not be as critical going forward – but likely should play through his contract unless a desirable trade for a veteran wing is available. Looking at a 4-5 year window, only Crawford is unlikely to be able to contribute quality minutes, although their roles might change. Dollars and contracts will also impact roster development. Wish Bazz was a productive long term part of the new Wolves culture – but will wish him well going forward, perhaps our next Beasley…

  6. I just don’t like bullsh*t. You know… Even if you like Teague a little better than Jones, it can’t be a huge ‘myopic’ difference between the two. It’s OK to admit we have two good PG’s with different skill sets. Anything else seems dishonest and like backhanded negativity. On Rubio, Pete and most fans loved him here and no, we was never a reason we sucked, it was lack of cast around him. If he was our PG instead of Teague with this roster, we’d be just as good. But Jim acts like good riddance. He had the nerve to say that most fans had forgotten about Rubio and the primary reason was Teague’s wonderful play. On the boards I see people talking about Rubio all the time still, so no the fans have not forgotten a very memorable player after less than a year. And Teague doesn’t make anyone forget anything. I’m sick of propaganda. It’s getting to be a new thing in this country. As far as the Wolves go, what is the need for propaganda when you have a good team that is winning and a coach heartily supported by the organization and media? It’s weird. As for Jim Pete is particular, it is disappointing because at times he can be so frank and from the heart. But then he goes into stooge mode. You expect some corporate brown noser like Benz to tow the line. I guess I expect more honesty and subtly from Jim.

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