Sometimes, an entertaining game of basketball is just that: entertainment. That’s — in its own perverse way — the blessing of the denouement of the kind of season that Timberwolves fans have grown accustomed to over the last several years. Go back a decade and the Wolves were the #1 seed in the Western Conference, following years where the end of season concern was getting out of the first round. Just after that, entire seasons were slogs, lit only dimly by some notion of rebuilding the team with little consistent direction to indicate such a thing was even happening. Continue Reading…
Archives For Steve McPherson
In the skyway back to the parking lot after the Minnesota Timberwolves’ comprehensive mangling of the Los Angeles Lakers 143-107, two Laker fans stood vigil with a view of the exit to the visiting team bus. This was well after most of the crowd had made their way to their cars and the skyway was mostly empty.
Below, other fans stood a meager layer deep waiting for a dejected Lakers team to make their way to the bus. The 143 points Minnesota put up set a new Timberwolves franchise record and also gave them their largest win since a 42-point victory over the Thunder on Jan. 7, 2009. Their 67.1% shooting set a single-game franchise record and was the highest in the NBA so far this season. Kevin Love had a triple double at the end of the third quarter. Nikola Pekovic was a plus-38, Jordan Hill a minus-38. The Wolves biggest lead was 41 points, the Lakers biggest lead, zero.
These two Lakers fans, in jerseys and hats, in Forum blue and gold, waited. If this Laker team manages two more wins this season, they’ll be spared the ignominy of having the second-worst win total in Laker history, beating out their 25-50 finish in 1959-60 and their 19-53 finish in 1957-58. They were still the Minneapolis Lakers during those two seasons. Terrible basketball has a long tradition in Minnesota.
Maybe that’s why these fans who come out of the woodwork in the visiting team’s colors for games against the Lakers, the Heat, are such easy targets. Being a Wolves fan for any serious amount of time demands resilience. It fosters a mistrust of success, an expectation of disappointment. At the core of this fandom is the sense that it has to be earned with hardship, not bought in the form of a #24 jersey with “BRYANT” on the back.
Even an offensive explosion like last night’s — a game Nikola Pekovic, back from injury, called “a triumph from the very first moment” — is going to bring with it a sour little note: Where was this kind of performance when it could have gotten them into the playoffs, when it could have mattered?
But “mattered” is a strangely relative term. Since the Wolves have fallen out of contention for a playoff spot, they’ve been peppered with questions about what there’s left to play for and they’ve given the same bland, generic responses that most athletes do in such situations. Stuff about still having things to learn, about seeing where they are for next year, about playing hard because that’s what you do.
But last night there was a little pure joy in the game. Returning to the bench after starting six games and putting up a double-double in all but one of them, Gorgui Dieng got a hero’s welcome when he checked into the game for the first time at the 4:17 mark of the first quarter. Some of the applause was also no doubt for Pekovic’s sterling effort in that first quarter, where he went 4-4 and scored 12 points. And some of it may have been for the simple fact that a bench player checking in for the Wolves was not a reason to nervously bite your fingernails. Dieng acquitted himself well in his backup role with 14 points and 9 rebounds. (“The guys were giving him a pretty hard time there with only nine rebounds,” said Adelman in his postgame presser.)
And as the third quarter was ending with the Wolves up comfortably, an errant Laker shot bounced harmlessly towards the Wolves bench. Love was the closest to the ball and the Minnesota bench, well aware of his 22 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds, starting shouting, “GET IT! GET IT! GET IT!” When Love gamely scooped the ball off the ground for a buzzer beating rebound, they cheered. In the break between quarters they patted him on the back and smiled. Everyone was just having a good time.
You can take what you will from a historic win like this at the tail end of a disappointing season. You can say that when the chips are down, this team didn’t step up, that their inability to close out games shows a lack of character. That any team can have a good time when they’re romping all over an opponent as hopeless as the Lakers. That Love is leaving so none of it matters. I get it: It’s a weird thing how at the end of a bad thing, there are good things.
But then I think about those Lakers fans waiting for their team — without Kobe Bryant, without Pau Gasol, without any clear path beyond lottery luck — and I think about why they’re out there in the skyway. It’s possible they’re Los Angeles transplants, that they grew up there and grew up with the Lakers, that they’re sticking by their hometown team. But I would almost prefer for them to be bandwagon fans who jumped on a frontrunner because of the glitz, the rings, the Black Mamba. Maybe the weird thing for them is that they actually started liking the team and now they can’t get out of it.
One way or another, we end up places. We get there by a mix of things we can control and things we can’t, and then we have the choice of either leaving or sticking around. Those Lakers fans and this Timberwolves team last night are a reminder: If you’re sticking around, at least try to enjoy yourself. It’s just much easier on your constitution.
[Video courtesy of CJ Fogler]
That right there is a man at the end of his rope.
When that video of Kevin Love’s postgame comments after the Timberwolves’ 109-92 to the Memphis Grizzlies was posted last night, reactions were both swift and morose, with many jumping to the conclusion that this means Love is done in Minnesota, but let’s pump those brakes, OK? Continue Reading…
Last night, the first season of HBO’s loathed and lauded True Detective came to an end but DON’T WORRY. There are no spoilers here because like many, many people I couldn’t watch it because HBO GO sputtered and died under the weight of everyone logging into their parents’ accounts to watch the finale.
But before that, the Minnesota Timberwolves lost a basketball match to the Toronto Raptors, dropping the Wolves to 31-31 and five games back from Memphis (in the eighth and final playoff spot) and Phoenix (in the ninth). The Wolves’ playoff odds according to the ghost of John Hollinger at ESPN now stand at 11.5%. The capsule summary of the game looks a lot like ones we’ve seen before: In spite of 26 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists from Kevin Love (and a new single season record for made 3-pointers by a Timberwolf (144)) and 17 and 11 from Nikola Pekovic, in spite of a strong level of effort all around, the Wolves couldn’t get enough production, particularly up close. Continue Reading…
Hello. My name is Steve and this shit is all my fault. Continue Reading…
Here’s a problem: You watch a game of basketball and you know something about basketball. You might know a little, or you might think you know a lot, or you might even be aware that the rather large amount you know pales in comparison to what everyone who’s directly involved in the game knows. And not in some “You can’t know unless you’ve played” way, but in the way that it’s nearly impossible for you to comprehend the volumetric gap in knowledge between whatever you know about the game — as vast as that amount might feel — and what, say, Rick Adelman knows after coaching 2,794 games. Two thousand seven hundred and ninety-four. Continue Reading…
How bad a team is — in linear terms — is relatively easy to measure. The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers are the sine qua non of awful by most standard measurements; their 9-73 win-loss record earned them the nickname the “Nine and 73ers” (which is pretty good, as far as nicknames go). But although their season was shortened by the lockout, the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats were demonstrably worse than those Sixers with a winning percentage of .106 to Philly’s .110.
But Charlotte that year was awful by design. Whether or not you want to label it tanking, the roster was not built to win games, having lost its best players from the previous season in Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson and leaning heavily on Kemba Walker in his rookie year. So they were terrible, but were they disappointing? Continue Reading…
Going into last night’s game against the Houston Rockets, the Wolves were in a flat spin and headed out to sea, losers of five of the last six and facing a team they match up with exceedingly poorly. Consider: without Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, their biggest impact players are at the point guard and power forward positions, while the Rockets’ most essential positions are shooting guard, small forward and center. The result, then, was to be expected—especially with Rick Adelman’s absence from the bench for personal reasons—against a team that’s not yet in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, but is still pretty damn good.
Not that the Wolves didn’t have their moments. You can see below that they actually ran a play: Continue Reading…
I’m a teacher, which means I do a lot of grading and — honestly — I hate it. But I thought for a change of pace I’d try out the handy platform created by our TrueHoop buddies over at Raptors Republic to recap a game that, honestly, was way more fun and entertaining than it had any right to be, given injuries to Pekovic, Love and Martin.
(PRO TIP: The Chrome browser and the recap grades generator are sniping at each other in the locker room. Neither is taking accountability for the disagreement. For now, you’ll probably have better luck reading the grades post if we run the Firefox browser play.
In case this horrible basketball analogy isn’t clear, Chrome hates the grades generator for some reason we can’t figure out right now. Look at it in Firefox and it’s fine — Zach Harper)
|Dante Cunningham, PF 39 MIN | 6-16 FG | 2-6 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | +4Starting in his second game of the season after Kevin Love was held out with a quad contusion, Cunningham brought the kind of energy we often associate with him, but haven’t always seen this season. Yes: he shot his fair share of midrange jumpers and only managed a .375 shooting percentage, but he racked up two big dunks early plus one big block on C.J. McCollum that were a big part of the energetic start that kept the Wolves in the game for the first three and a half quarters.|
|Corey Brewer, SF 39 MIN | 11-23 FG | 4-6 FT | 7 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 26 PTS | +6Brewer as a primary offensive option is a terrifying proposition, but such are the contorted positions that injuries to your top three scorers can put you in. With 26 points (the last ones coming when the game was already out of reach), he barely edged Ricky Rubio to lead the team in scoring and he did it with his signature blend wanton recklessness on the break and ill-advised long-range shots. Technically, he only shot one 3-pointer according to the box score, but he took a lot of long twos from near the corner. Nonetheless, his crazy energy was a big part of the Wolves nearly overcoming all their injuries in this one. As he said after the game, “We have to look at it like as long as we play as hard as we can we have a chance to win.” It’s not clear exactly how much of a chance they had, really: Although they hung tough through most of the game, it always seemed like Portland was going to be able to go back to their starters and finish it off.|
|Chase Budinger, SF 29 MIN | 6-12 FG | 4-5 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 19 PTS | +19Budinger’s return to full-strength continues to be a work in progress, but he really showed a lot of improvement in this game, racking up a very strong 19 points on 50% shooting in his first start of the year. After the game, he referred to this game as a “stepping stone,” and that seems right. It’s hard to know if there’s a distinct corner for a player to turn on their way back from injury, or if that kind of thing is only apparent in reverse. If the injuries force Budinger to step up a little sooner and a little quicker without putting him at risk, this run of games prior to the All-Star break with him starting could augur well for the team’s production after the break.|
|Ronny Turiaf, C 38 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 13 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 8 PTS | +8Turiaf is just a joy to watch play, and he is more or less the definition of the largely undefinable “veteran leadership” for a team. His block on Wes Matthews as the first half wound down kept the game within one point for the Wolves going into the break, and that sense of nearly playing the Blazers even through 24 minutes meant a lot to their solid third quarter play. Much like Budinger, this extended run right now could pay dividends when the injured starters return.|
|Ricky Rubio, PG 39 MIN | 8-19 FG | 7-8 FT | 2 REB | 9 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 25 PTS | +5This was a great all-around effort from Rubio, who still took the loss pretty hard. Lacking Martin, Love and Pekovic meant that he was his own last resort, and he stepped into that role solidly, notching a new career and season high with 25 points. Sure, it came on 8-19 shooting, but there are plenty of players out there who would shoot that much and miss that much and never blink. It would be wrong to think this is the kind of point production we should be expecting from Rubio in general, but it’s clear that he’s been in a funk for much of the season and there’s some reason to hope that the shifting roles that injury is forcing on the team might do something to shake up his game.|
|Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, PF 4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -6Four minutes wasn’t much to judge Mbah a Moute on. He continues to be an able replacement for Derrick Williams, in that he doesn’t play much and doesn’t do much.|
|Robbie Hummel, SF 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -4After notching 17 minutes against OKC after not playing since early January, Hummel didn’t get into the game against New Orleans and then made little impact last night. It seems like Adelman’s early season model of workmanlike play has fallen out of the rotation, but it’s hard to complain that much when it means more room to see what the next guy down the list has to offer.|
|Shabazz Muhammad, SF 17 MIN | 4-8 FG | 4-5 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -19Shabazz finally managed to get some solid run in a game, notching season highs in both minutes and points. He looked aggressive, particularly on the block where his strength helped him get good lucks from the left post an a flurry of hook shots in the early going.It wasn’t all gravy, though: He still got hot over an offensive foul call that was — in my opinion — a 50/50 call. You could have made an argument for the contact as incidental, but it also speaks to some of the recklessness he still plays with, and then his visible anger with the call doesn’t speak well to keeping your head down and playing the game no matter what knocks you take. He also had a few moments that looked out of place in an NBA game. At one point in the fourth quarter, Nicolas Batum was clearly giving him the 3-pointer. Muhammad thought about the shot, took a couple dribbles and then jacked it up, missing. It seemed clear that Batum was baiting him into taking it and he fell for it hook, line and sinker. His play early was good, his play late less so. If he can maintain the kind of aggressiveness and energy he showed early throughout all his playing time, he can be helpful.|
|Gorgui Dieng, C 9 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -16At one point, when Aldridge was taking it to Cunningham, it seemed like Adelman went to Dieng in hopes that his length would bother Aldridge a little more. It didn’t. Dieng’s game is still raw and his rim protection wasn’t a factor against a team that was relying on jumpshots from Matthews and Aldridge with Lillard in foul trouble.|
|J.J. Barea, PG 14 MIN | 1-7 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -18It seems plain that Barea is not a good fit for this roster the way the season is playing out. The vision of Barea as a sixth man off the bench to provide a spark within the context of a well-oiled offensive machine just isn’t happening. Any kind of championship experience he was supposed to bring from his run with the Mavericks has evaporated. It’s like the Wolves wanted to start a spin-off from a hit show, but instead of Frasier, they’ve gotten a Paul Krapence.Barea seems completely incapable of running an offense, instead only using the players around him as safety cones to navigate on his way to a generally bad jumper or a cannonballing foray to the rim. I would never question his competitive spirit, but right now, with this team, it’s like fire trapped with no place to go and putting him in the game is creating a backdraft.|
|Alexey Shved, PG 6 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -14The only thing equal to Shved’s terrifying appearance in mask and Iron Curtain-stength hair gel was his ineffectiveness on the court.|
|Kevin Love, PF DNP LEFT QUAD CONTUSION MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | STL | BLK | TO | PTS | I think he was wearing the same checkered shirt I bought at Target a couple weeks ago. It’s a good shirt, but I’d be surprised if he actually got it there, although I can’t not be entertained by the idea of Kevin Love shopping at the Roseville Super Target.|
|Rick AdelmanI don’t honestly believe there was very much that Adelman could have directly done to win this game, but running Barea as the primary ballhandler for stretches certainly didn’t help. If you want to credit Adelman for instilling the right kind of mentality in the team going in, for getting them to understand that they were going to have to jump on the Blazers right away and play with energy the whole night, then that’s to his credit. But Adelman continues to lean heavily on Barea in stretches that seem to stymie the team’s momentum. Not that he has a lot of options for PGs on the bench since Shved as the primary ballhandler seems just as ill-advised. I miss Luke Ridnour.|
One Thing We Saw
- Looking at this game on the schedule, it would have been reasonable to chalk it up as a loss just looking at the lack of Pekovic, looking at Portland’s record and success, and looking at playing the second game of a back-to-back. Add in missing Love and Martin and by all rights this should have been a blowout. (Consider that statistically the Wolves regular starting lineup has an average PER of 18.6. Last night’s starters? Average of 11.5.) But it wasn’t. The Wolves rallied together in spite of it all, which is about all you could hope for in this situation. In any project that’s spread over months and months, there are going to be days when the odds are stacked against you, when circumstances are going to make a direct success nearly impossible. I continue to believe these are the times when you can learn the most about the project. Maybe Shabazz never gets extended run the rest of the season. Maybe they won’t need him to get much run. But if and when there’s a time when he does further down the line, it’s only with experiences like the one from last night that he’ll have a chance for success.