Archives For Game Analysis

Roy “Dr.” Hibbert

The Wolves’ street-clothes squad boasts a pretty impressive resume. You’ve got multiple All-Star appearances, a Defensive Player of the Year, a former Most Improved Player candidate, even some MVP votes. What’s more, whoever has been dressing Nikola Pekovic deserves a firm handshake. That fitted herringbone blazer? the deep pink tie? the open-collar-plus-gold-chain combo? Dynamite.

In contrast, no one would say that the Wolves’ actual active roster is brimming with talent. In essence, you have a future-superstar with a sub-40% shooting percentage leading a crew of backups and D-Leaguers. This is a team that can compete for victories under certain circumstances–like when the Washington Wizards lay a total egg on the road, or when, say, the Spurs rest all of their good players–but that on most nights has very little chance to win. (I should mention: no shame in being a backup or a D-Leaguer. The NBA is much the better for the Dante Cunninghams and J.J. Bareas and even the Chris Johnsons of the world.)

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Here is Rick Adelman on the Wolves’ leaden, dispiriting loss to the Mavs:

We just didn’t have any energy. We had shot after shot and missed shot after shot. They ran a lot of people in in the first half. I know they were thinking we played last night and the travel. We just wore down…They are willing but we were a step behind and I think it’s physical and mental both.

Very little needs to be added to that assessment. There is, of course, the ongoing problem of the Wolves missing almost all of their best players and trotting out a threadbare crew of role players and D-Leaguers. Add to that the fact that they were playing the night after an exhausting loss in Denver, a very late flight and losing an hour of sleep…well it all adds up to some fatigued, uninspired basketball.

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On the surface, the Nuggets and the Wolves in their current state of frontcourt decimation seem to share a common profile. Both teams run radically simplified half-court offenses and generate many of their best looks off of opponents’ turnovers. Both teams rely heavily on the energy and wiles of their backcourts and depend on dribble penetration to create looks. Neither team shoots threes well; both teams require on heavy outputs of energy to play their game.

But two crucial differences make those commonalities merely superficial. The first is that while Denver is absurdly deep, rich with players who fit the profile of their team’s game, the Wolves are down to their last nine ragtag dudes, many of whom are not what you might call All-Star material. Its a lot easier to sprint up and down the floor when you know that a breather is right around the corner and that your team won’t be the worse off for it. The second is that the Wolves play that way by necessity, out of desperation, while the Nuggets do so by design. When you play with such simplicity, chaos and pace, you are in the Nuggets’ wheelhouse. And nobody does it better; if you get drawn into their game, particularly on their home floor, where the thin air seems to corrode your lungs and turn your legs into noodles, the Nugs will run you through the thresher.

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Rubio

Teams need wins.

Pretty obvious statement, right?

Obviously teams need wins. Wins produce success. Wins produce playoff chances. Wins produce playoff seeding and possible advantageous match-ups. Wins produce championships. Wins produce confidence and chemistry. Wins produce opportunities. For a team like the Timberwolves, who have struggled so much this season while battling injury after injury, wins produce a sense of relief.  Continue Reading…

The Timberwolves were playing without three of their four essential players and therefore faced an insurmountable talent disadvantage. They missed many free-throws and even more threes. They labored to salvage tiny scraps of offensive production. They lacked the personnel to seriously impede their opponent’s offensive execution. Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before. Once revealed, the patterns are relentless. Nevertheless, some observations on this loss in Portland:

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KobeDunk

I’ve got a big three-part breakdown of Ricky Rubio starting Friday, and it’s a lot of writing so I don’t want to put too much thought into this blowout loss. Plus, how many ways can you state that the Wolves lost another key player to injury, tried to fight the best they could, Ricky Rubio played really well and encouraging basketball, and it wasn’t even close to enough to earn a victory.

Nikola Pekovic went down with an abdominal strain and found himself out the rest of the game with the ailment. He played nine minutes in the game and then for the remaining 39 minutes of action against a surging Western Conference team, Minnesota found themselves once again without four of their five ideal starters. Kevin Love was out, obviously. Chase Budinger is still out, although he’s running now and will be reevaluated in two to three weeks. Andrei Kirilenko missed the game with a calf injury.

The only player there in the starting lineup and getting regular minutes is Rubio. He was spectacular with his passing for much of the game, and he even made a few jumpers. He finished two rebounds shy of a triple-double, but he wasn’t good enough to lead second and third stringers to victory on the road. Kenny Smith talked about how Rubio has to learn how to score and dominate the game in other ways.   Continue Reading…

There are lots of reasons why the Timberwolves are a poor fourth quarter team, why they’ve lost ten times (worst in the NBA) after carrying a lead into the final frame. Those oft-mentioned ‘intangibles’ are part of the problem: maintaining composure and focus when things get wild; summoning the energy and determination to make the essential plays. An example of the former might be Ricky Rubio spinning wildly through the lane before lobbing the ball over Nikola Pekovic’s head and out of bounds with 3:18 remaining and the score tied at 93. Or Derrick Williams turning down a wide-open midrange jumper in order to mow down the perfectly positioned Carl Landry. An example of the latter might be, for instance, failing to defensive rebound a missed free throw down by two with 38 seconds left.

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RubioBrook

It’s kind of the same old story this season, right?

The Wolves are talented enough to stay competitive with just about any team in the NBA, but they’re not healthy enough to overcome the wave of talent, execution, and production that a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder can throw at you. The Wolves need a special set of circumstances to overcome a team like the Thunder. They beat them earlier in the season, but had the luxury of a home environment at their disposal. They also had a balanced attack from a lot of the players, including J.J. Barea going nuts in the fourth quarter of that game.

This time, the bench carried the Wolves when the starters were largely ineffective. The Wolves got 59 points from four bench players, thanks to Barea, Alexey Shved, Dante Cunningham, and Greg Stiemsma stepping up to the challenge. And this was kind of a long time coming from a few of these bench guys. For Alexey, it was the first real good game he’s had since the loss to Memphis. For Stiemer, he hadn’t really produced much since the win over New Orleans. For Dante, it was the first real good game since the loss to Portland.

On a night in which Nikola Pekovic was completely neutralized by the duo of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, the Wolves badly needed the bench to step up and keep things close until the starters could find a rhythm. The problem is the Wolves’ starters never found a rhythm. This often leads to the knee-jerk reaction of shuffling deck chairs on a sinking ship, but I like the balance of the Wolves’ rotation based on what is available to Rick Adelman.  Continue Reading…

PekBruteSquad

Maybe the Wolves shouldn’t explore the Mozgov/Pek backup plan after all?

In a game that was incredibly fast in the first half because of a lack of calls and completely bogged down in the fourth quarter because of 23 foul calls and 38 free throw attempts, the Wolves had to power through their first game back from the All-Star break. Luckily for them, they have the most powerful guy in the NBA with Nikola Pekovic. It’s amazing how a guy with so much brute strength can have such a feathery touch when it comes to scoring with hooks and push-shots around the basket.

There was one shot in particular in the second half when he used about four or five bounces on the rim and backboard before the shot dropped in which I thought he was practicing for Plinko on The Price Is Right (Actually, how awesome would Pek be on The Price Is Right?). The thing with Pek is he’s a rare breed of center now. In the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s, the NBA was ruled by powerful guys on the low block who could move mountains with a drop-step. Because we have such a faster and more athletic game now, guys like Pek just don’t come around anymore.  Continue Reading…

RubioLuke

When you’re a losing team and you have injuries all over key parts of your roster, you need a full team effort to pull out victories. It isn’t getting good performances just from your remaining top players. Of course, you need good games from them but it takes a village to raise a victory, or something like that.

It also helps playing a really bad team. It gives you more and less pressure at the same time, which is an odd thing for a team to manage. The Cleveland Cavaliers are not a good basketball team — at all. They have Kyrie Irving, who might already be a top 5 point guard, and if he’s not then he’s knocking on the door like one of those creepy stalkers in the movie The StrangersContinue Reading…