2017-18 Season

Rockets 126, Timberwolves 108: My left stroke just went VIRAL

 

I joined the On the NBA Beat podcast the other day, and the host asked me an interesting question: do I have a preference for whether the Wolves wind up the third or fourth seed in the West? The thinking is that the higher-seeded team would miss the Golden State Warriors in the second round, provided there are no first-round upsets, of course. And my answer was, “I don’t know if it matters, because there’s no way Minnesota would beat either Golden State OR Houston in a playoff series. They just don’t match up with either team. At all.”

Tuesday night’s game backs me up, I think.

As far as I can tell, the Western Conference can be broken down into 5 tiers. At the top are the Warriors and Rockets, who are (in my opinion) the clear-cut two best teams in the entire league. Next is the Spurs and Timberwolves, who will likely fight over the third seed right down to the final games of the season. The third tier is comprised of six teams who are fighting over the four remaining playoff spots: the Thunder, Blazers, Nuggets, Pelicans, Clippers and now the Jazz (thanks to their recent 10 game winning streak). Fourth, in a tier all by themselves, are the Los Angeles Lakers; they’re 12-5 since January 7th, and since they don’t own their own pick in the 2018 Draft, have no incentive to mail it in the rest of the way. And finally, in the bottom-most tier, the Grizzlies, Kings, Suns, and Mavericks are rolling tanks from city to city until game 82 is over for each.

Now, the Wolves’ desired playoff seeding could be affected by who they’d have to play in the first round; I don’t want to overlook that angle. I know Minnesota is 3-1 versus Oklahoma City this season, but I still would rather avoid Russell Westbrook and Paul George in a postseason series, so I guess I’d root for the Wolves to clinch whichever seed has them playing Portland/Denver/New Orleans or whoever. Winning one postseason series should be the goal. That’d be cool! That’d be fun.

Because there’s no way in hell they’re winning two.

Anyway, I should probably talk about the game itself, rather than daydreaming about the postseason…

The Wolves got off to a very solid start, with this Jeff Teague 3 capping off a 7-0 run to open the ballgame:

Minnesota dominated the entire frame, with three players (KAT, Jimmy, Teague) scoring 8 or more points apiece, and the team outrebounding Houston 14-to-7 while also turning 4 Rocket turnovers into 6 fastbreak points. The gameplan was clearly to pound the ball into the paint with whoever Clint Capela wasn’t guarding; Mike D’Antoni opened with James Harden defending Taj quite often, and the Wolves sought to exploit that mismatch as often as they could. They led 31-to-23 after the first.

Over the rest of the game, Houston outscored Minnesota 103-to-77.

There were plenty of reasons for the downfall, and all of them have to do with matchups. The Rockets’ bench combined to score 48 points and shoot 11-of-25 from deep, whereas the Wolves’ bench had an abysmal first half stint and was only bailed out in the second half by Jamal Crawford’s hot hand. Minnesota’s wings had a very difficult time defending the three; Houston launched 47 (!!!!!!) three-pointers, knocking down 22 of them. The home team just couldn’t keep up, draining just 6 of their 23 tries. It really was a whole lot of trading twos for threes, and as the old adage says, it didn’t work; Minnesota outscored Houston 54-to-32 in the paint, but were outscored 66-to-18 from outside and failed to get their usual quota of “twice as many foul shots as their opponent” (both teams made 22 free throws). After turning it over 4 times in the first quarter, Houston had just 2 turnovers in the final 36 minutes of the contest.

Two individual efforts stood out for the Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns had 35 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks on 12-of-16 shooting. He did this despite having to deal with Clint Capela, who actually did a pretty damn good job being physical with Karl and frustrating him. Jeff Teague, who finished with 25 points and 8 assists, also carried the team for long stretches.

It was their stellar play, combined with the aforementioned Crawford “hot hand” stint in the second half, that had the Wolves within 4 with 7:54 to play. But then… Ryan Anderson hit a three on a broken play. Andrew Wiggins (more on him in a second) committed a silly turnover by stepping out of bounds. Ryan Anderson hit another three. Andrew Wiggins missed a three. Ryan Anderson missed a three, Chris Paul got the offensive rebound, and found PJ Tucker for a corner trey. Jimmy Butler missed a three. And finally, James Harden drilled a stepback three in his defender’s face, and the 4-point lead had ballooned to 16. The game was over.

Andrew Wiggins was terrible. Terrible. Early in the second quarter, Jim Petersen stated on the broadcast that Wiggins looked “so disinterested” on the floor. He missed his first 12 shot attempts, and finished the game with 7 points, 3 rebounds, 0 assists and was a minus-25 in nearly 41 (?!?) minutes of action. Granted, it was his first real clunker in awhile, but it was a very disappointing game out of the guy you sort of count on to bring it against high-level competition. Like… hopefully… the playoffs?

<Sigh>

There I go again.

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6 thoughts on “Rockets 126, Timberwolves 108: My left stroke just went VIRAL

  1. While watching this game, I got to daydreaming too… I was thinking about people who used to be in my life more but drifted out and I wish that had not happened, wish they were still close. I guess it is a Valentines day-y thought… And I feel more and more like that about basketball. I watch other teams, but it’s hard to follow them closely. So I end up having the league filtered thought the Wolves. I get to know players on the Wolves the best. If they leave it becomes a test: will I keep following them, and cheering for them? When Garnett left, I had no hard feelings and followed him and cheered for him. When Love left I wasn’t bitter. He was a bit of an ass in some ways, but his inflated view of his value made moving him and trying something else more worthwhile. He’s a 3rd-4th banana on a championship level team, who thought he was a 1st banana. Anyhow, I have not really followed him or cheered for him since he left. I don’t really cheer against him. I just am not really interested in him as a player. I find myself very interested in following Rubio and LaVine. I think they are both interesting players, and good guys who really tried hard for our team. It’s more than just that they passed ‘the test’ though–I wish they were still here. With Garnett, I understood it was time. I feel like we should still have Rubio and LaVine. Wiggins, if he was traded tomorrow, I wouldn’t miss. I wouldn’t follow him that closely or cheer much for him. I could go on (Teague, wouldn’t cheer for if he left…) The point is, this season has been fun in some ways… we win. But we aren’t that fun to watch and the whole thing has a teasing, house of cards feel. Beyond that, we have a limited amount of players I really like, and even those I really like feel misused at times. I find myself really annoyed we still have Wiggins and don’t have Rubio and LaVine. This might be hyperbole, but we have LaVine (and maybe Markannen too) and not Wiggins, we probably compete in this game.

    In dreaming about the playoffs… William is totally correct on two counts. One, we don’t have a chance to beat a reasonably healthy GS or Houston team. It’s like a force field and all we can do is run into it like a bird flying into a window. He’s also right about how stratified the West is. There’s not a lot in question as far as the quality of layers go. The one tiny difference I have in perspective is that I feel like OKC might be in our 2nd tier. They started slow (chemistry) and have ball hog (Westbrook) issues as well as redundancy (two aging, strong SF stars) but they have as much chance at being able to beat the top tier teams as we do. Seems like an off year for the Spurs as we duel them for seeding. But keep in mind, they are in a position to out coach us pretty much all the time and they have been missing their best player basically all year. The drop from the top tier to ours is like stepping off the edge of the Grand Canyon.

    Sometimes I think we are a team of knuckleheads, but some of this might be coaching. At one point KAT gave Andersen enough room to shoot a three and Jim Pete commented that he needs to get close, force him off the line and let him drive (where someone else would pick him up). I agree, but it’s clear KAT didn’t know this was the strategy. It’s someone’s job to tell him–our coach! So, either KAT doesn’t listen AT ALL, or Thibs isn’t telling him this stuff enough and at the right times, or it isn’t our strategy at all and Jim Pete should hit Thibs over the head with his mic and take over coaching. Another example was Teague putting his arm our when defending Harden. I know that he uses that to get you to touch his shooting arm as he goes up to get a foul call and I’ve never even seen Harden play in person! One would hope Teague would know this–DO NOT put your arm near Harden in that situation (esp for ZERO reason). But if he doesn’t, guess who’s job it is to tell him until he’s blue in the face?

    Jim Pete sort of semi-consciously, at one point said of Wiggins, ‘He doesn’t look like he’s interested in playing’ or something like that. That about covers it. And this was only partially into his ghastly shooting night. I hate having a player on my team you have to say that about. Just hate it. Let alone one the franchise continues to treat like a star. It’s toxic. This is one reason I am so sad about LaVine. That guy is a baller–he’s avid, confident, always trying his hardest. And it pays off. Wiggins will never be that guy. We should have traded him. The league is going to see games like this from this ‘star in the making’ and make sure his value has maxed out.

    You know, I’m babbling a lot, like usual, but a game like this could just as easily spark a shrug. William gave me something to go on. Everything has been said as to why this team is so far from Houston’s level, why they match up poorly with 3 n dunk teams. Houston is basically one giant parlor trick with good and correct personnel. But, until someone stands up to it, inoculates it, points out that this isn’t a good shooting, multi dimensional team with good D like GS, they will terrorize. And we are about the last team who would break the code. But don’t worry guys, Thibs is on the case! But the point is, this result was totally predictable for reasons that have been talked about a heck of a lot here, and not a thing has changed.

    Towns did his thing and actually got his touches, and even mostly played good D. But he didn’t get any help. His only help was… Teague? Teague played pretty well. It’s weird slapping his back after a game like this–he was supposed to be like this every night. And in some ways even in a good game like this he has a causal, lazy, mistake prone style and doesn’t get our offense moving like it should. But he shot well when few did. What is wrong with Butler? He looks tired or slightly hurt or something. It’s nice to not having him ball hog, but he also is sort of disappearing when we need a solid effort. Gorgui? I mean come on man. I can’t wait to try Patton (will this actually happen?). We can talk about how Crawford saved the bench (what bench–ours got outscored 47-14), but he was -12 when the team was -18… So…

    We don’t match up with this team because we don’t shoot 3s enough nor hit them at a good clip. But, what is up with our 3 pt D?! Wow. It’s crazy bad. This is the kind of thing that makes me wonder how Thibs has any support. It gets tiresome following this team. In some ways they are predictably good, and beat middling teams they should (though oddly they get beat by bad teams a lot). But we hardly ever beat top teams, have surprise wins. We keep looking the same. You can predict a game like this–we’ll compete at first, but gradually get buried as the game goes on. We will lose handily. It won’t be a particularly fun or interesting game to watch. We will give up a lot of threes and not shoot a lot ourselves. If we could shoot threes (this is why I dream of LaVine and Markannen) with KAT’s play and Butler’s toughness we’d be dangerous. We cannot shoot or guard against threes. We don’t have a coach that seems to be searching for any relief for our many faults. It is what it is.

  2. Diagree about OKC. I think they’re a legit threat to Houston and GS. They’re 3-0 against them this season. The only thing that hurts them is no Roberson so maybe not anymore.

    Our defense needs to change. It’s not working. How does Thibs not see that or make any changes? We allowed Houston to shoot almost 50% from 3. That’s horrendous on us. If a team shoots 40% from 3 that’s considered a very good shooting game. But we allowed 47%. That’s like what we average on offense with just normal field goals.

    Wiggins. Man. I’m with pyrrol. I wish we had Lavine back. No desire.

    Houstons bench is way deeper than ours. You need a deep team to make a deep playoff run. Our starting 5 will only get us so far. This has to be addressed next season. At this point, I’m ok if we trade Wiggins to get 2-3 solid pieces to give us some depth and salary flexibility.

    KAT is ridiculously good. 12-16. I’d be ok if he took 50% of our shots. You seriously can’t have too much Towns because he’s so effective and efficient. Glad to see he’s getting involved more.

  3. Yeah the Wiggins and Lavine comparison really hurts now especially when the Wolves can’t seem to get a win anymore and Lavine is absolutely balling in Chicago. He was +16 against Orlando when everyone else was in the negative and then he made a huge steal to win the game.

    Back to the Rockets game. Honestly I think the Wolves matchup well against the Rockets only because KAT can guard anyone on that team 1 on 1. The Rockets are a great team because they have good defenders except Harden and really good 3 point shooters. And Harden and Paul are smart play makers but they are not explosive athletes like Lavine so guarding them 1 on 1 with two of our best defenders is possible. But for some reason Thibs has the Wolves playing some weird zone defense where the Wolves leave 8 feet or more between them and the 3 point shooters. They allowed way too many open 3s and that falls on Thibs’ coaching.

    The formula to beat the Rockets should be to stay glued to the 3 point line and let Harden and Paul or whoever beat you to the rim. Paul is too short to finish at the rim so he will be looking to pass to Capela, and Harden can do it but I would challenge him to do for 4 quarters. If Harden can be that physical against Jimmy Butler for 4 quarters then he is truly the MVP but I doubt it and Spurs already proved it last year that he can’t. Thibs should be fired!!!

  4. was at the wolves-bulls game the other night and sat near another wolves fan. every time Zach had a layup or dunk that spurred the crowd, we just looked at each other like “yea, we’re gonna miss that guy.” Not just energy to the crowd but his teammates as well. Plus he’s mostly a consistent 3 pt shooter which this team could desperately use night in and night out.

    maybe hindsight Wiggins gets traded to the Bulls instead and the wolves keep Zach and get another FA wing who can play some D to make up for Lavine’s lack thereof?

  5. I like the nickname “Captain Casual” because that is what Wiggins effort looks like most nights. He needed competition this year, not an early signing to a max contract, He also needs to have an identity. If being the third wheel isn’t in his makeup, he needs to be pushed to rise to a higher level. Maybe pushing him to the bench and starting Belly would be a good idea. Let him know that starting isn’t a right, it is a responsibility. Butler, commented on the inconsistent effort in his teammate, so it isn’t just us. His shooting has never been so up and down (or more off course and flat) as it is this year. His passing is not NBA level, his rebounding isn’t terrible, but his boxing out of players and going for 50-50 balls is. He rarely sprints up the floor and in short, he isn’t playing like a NBA starter that gets 17 shots a night, like a max contract guy. So if Thibs wants to light a fire under Andrew, he should see what it is like to get limited minutes off the Thibs bench. Let him be a sixth man for awhile. See if there is some fight in the dog. Let’s see if he gets mad and upset and goes on a rampage to get his playing time back.

    I hear that Houston has ISO Joe now, so the rich get richer. I mentioned that DRose may be the only FA pickup Thibs can muster, so as bad as his game can be for a team, he is better than Brooks for playoffs. The big Zero was good last night. If he played like that every night, he may be worth his contract, but as good as he was, he still makes silly mistakes. Missing wide open Belly to throw the ball to Butler with time running out. Constantly fouling with no attempt to keep Hardin from getting the shot off. He was good, but for $19 million, he needs to have last night’s game be more his average and less of a rarity.

    Lastly, I totally disagree with the tier system. You have GState and Houston as the elite teams of the conference. Next you have San Antonio, because they play like a team more than the other Western teams. After that you have about 8 teams, that can either beat or be beaten by any of the others. We are in fourth place right now, but we play those Rockets a couple more times and GState one more time, plus the Celtics, Wizards in DC and Spurs. If we don’t beat the teams we should, we could easily tumble to the bottom of the playoffs or possibly out of the playoffs again. Unlike some of the other teams, we have not improved much at all in the last month. We still play down to our competition and now we don’t rise to play with better competition. We have no influx of talent like the others and we need to offset some of the miserable losses we have had this year with a quality win of two. Unless this team gels, after the all-star break, we could lose our playoff spot as quick as we lost touch with the Rockets last night.

  6. I would be surprised if we don’t see a better Wiggins coming out of the All-star break. You can see an example of how he preformed last year after the All-star break but also in the beginning of this year. Basically a fresh Wiggins is better than a tired one. And at 22 years old and heavy minutes we should expect fatigue. Wiggins is not even close to his prime with his body composition. In 3 years he will be able to handle the grind much better and these lapses in intensity will not surface as much. For now we should just pray that he doesn’t suffer any catastrophic injuries. I just hope Thibs is managing his minutes correctly and he might be just doing it right. Wiggins is typically playing big minutes in the first and third quarter and getting a lot of rest in the second and fourth quarter.

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