When we watch March Madness we watch very young, extraordinarily gifted men burn like roman candles. It is a carnival, less a display of basketball prowess than an ecstatic frenzy. We see the spirit carrying the body to places it literally cannot go. There are shows of incredible effort and passion, fevered battles for loose balls, defense played on the edge of exhaustion, wild last-second drives to the hoop. But also: shots crush the back iron; muscles drown in adrenaline; so many turnovers. The tournament is like the most spectacular party you barely remember, the one where the floor bent to the beat of the music, where you could not speak, only scream, where your veins ran with gold, where you loved everybody.
I’m not sure if any of you have been in the kind of situation the Wolves found themselves in last night, but I feel like I definitely have.
In the fall of 2003, things were not going so well for my band. A little less than a year after we changed the band’s name—a name we’d had for almost a decade—because we felt it no longer fit what we were trying to do, a little more than six months since we’d fired our bassist and not been able to find a consistent replacement, a few weeks after our drummer had to cancel several dates because of conflicts with another band he was in that paid him better, we played our last gig.
It was at a pretty new spot in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, not more than half an hour from Pittsfield, where we regularly packed them in whenever we played. Or rather, we used to, before the name change. The other guitarist—who was also the singer—and I were living in southern Connecticut at the time and trying to make inroads into New York City, where we’d played a good number of gigs, but hadn’t really found our niche. Massachusetts was supposed to be our safe space, our home turf, where we could be comfortable.
But nobody showed up on that October night. And I mean just about literally NOBODY. We had ringers on bass and drums, had maybe chucked whatever name recognition we had, and had barely rehearsed the drummer enough to get him through both our sets. I don’t think we knew for sure it was our last show, or at least we hadn’t said so out loud, but I think we had a sense that things were going off the rails, that any gig might be our last.
And we couldn’t rise to the occasion. It would be great to be able to tell you that we played our asses off that night, that our play rose to the level of the moment and that we really brought it. But we didn’t. And neither did the Timberwolves last night. Continue Reading…
Its a given that this Timberwolves’ season has been a bitter disappointment. I always believed that prognosticating before the year even began was foolish; the calculus of variables was just too ornate to ever settle confidently on one outcome. I think its safe to say, though, that the year has become something close to the worst-case-scenario. Yes, Andrei Kirilenko returned to his mid-oughts form–at least until fatigue and injury robbed him of a little of his vivacity–and Ricky Rubio has made incredible strides in his recovery. But Kevin Love’s injury, and the plague of injuries to key players that has infected the team all year long, has negated all of that.
Still, it could be so much worse. You could be a Wolves’ fan of four years ago, wondering if Randy Wittman could turn things around, hoping that Randy Foye and Rashad McCants could one day justify their lottery status. Remember that? Or even worse: you could be a Phoenix Sun’s fan right now. If that were the case, you would have endured a recent 10-game losing streak and a road record of 8-32, not to mention an entire season of Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson. You know what that’s like and it’s no fun. The “core” of your team would be Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley, fine players, to be sure, but nothing to build a team around. Your most recent lottery pick, Kendall Marshall, would look, and play ball, like a member of Das Racist. You would be placing your hopes for the future on the only front office with a claim to being worse on draft day than the Wolves. You would be cheering very hard for PJ Tucker and also for the Morris twins.
You live by the Dante Cunningham midrange jumper, you die by etc. With Pekovic out with calf contusion, this game—for as close as it seemed down the stretch—was yet another lesson in how a steady diet of pick and pop from Stiemsma and Cunningham in the early going doesn’t set the table the way a heart pick and roll from Pek does. It’s not rocket science; it’s just basic nutrition. Look: Continue Reading…
Maybe it doesn’t matter what type of team you have.
People get tired and worn down. It’s hard to continue to fight for something that really doesn’t have an end game. There are days you don’t want to be at your job, even when you make a lot of money and have a cool profession. And what we see with a lot of teams that don’t have anything to play for at the end of a lost/wasted season is they give in to the regular human nature the majority of us have and they just kind of stop fighting like they used to. It’s something that you can get frustrated about as a fan, but at the same time, I get it.
I don’t want to say the Wolves aren’t fighting. I think they’re clearly fighting. Continue Reading…
I’ve been watching the HBO series Entourage lately when I go to bed for a couple of reasons. The first reason is it helps me clear my head when I’m lying down to sleep. It’s something that’s fairly mindless and I can just relax to. The episodes are relatively short (25 minutes) so if I fall asleep during one of them, it’s not really a pain to go back and finish the episode later.
The second reason is I’m curious as to what my fascination is with this show. Is it that Entourage is a minuscule peek into a world I’m fascinated by? People have often wondered why I like bad movies because they equate it with not being entertaining. I would argue that bad movies can be just as valuable in the entertainment department because it can bring about questions you might never think of asking. How did this get made? Was this how the original draft of the script was? Why would a studio dedicate this much money to such a terrible project? What was the side deal that went with this movie? Is that really the best take they could have gotten out of Hayden Christensen? Continue Reading…
We were hoping to see a glimpse of Kevin Love with this core of a surging Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko, Chase Budinger, and friends so that we — and more importantly management — would have a good idea of what this team looked like when everybody was on the court this season. The ideal lineup of Rubio-Chase-AK-Love-Pek played exactly zero minutes and zero seconds on the floor together this season, which makes it hard to evaluate what they need to know heading into this offseason.
Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen at all. Love is going to have knee surgery to clean up some scar tissue and that will keep him out of action for about a month. Considering there are only eight days left in the season, math tells me he won’t be back before the game against San Antonio on the 17th. From the team: Continue Reading…
In many ways, Rick Adelman’s 1,000th win resembled his 703rd loss. As in Friday night’s game against Toronto, his team enjoyed spells of real ease, in which an overmatched opponent appeared ready to fold the tent and cede the game. In this one, the Wolves cruised to an 11-point lead in the first quarter. They dropped a 12-0 run in the second quarter and a 10-0 run late in the third. But as in their loss to Toronto, they repeatedly gave those leads back with stretches of unfocused play. That is what young teams do I guess, especially one whose primary ballhandlers include an emotional, turnover-prone 22-year-old, a 5’8″ shot-chucking black hole and the fourth Karamazov brother (the skinny, depressed-looking one with the wildly inconsistent shooting mechanics).
There are few things in basketball as deflating as watching an opposing midrange jumpshooter on a hot streak. You know that, even with his impressive arsenal of fades and stepbacks, when he shoots that beautiful 18-footer over his defender’s outstretched hand, he is taking the least efficient shot on the floor. He is doing exactly what you want him to do. And still, the ball goes in the basket.
For the most part, the Wolves defended DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay the way that you hoped they might. They walled off the paint, prevented layups, kept the two long slashers off the free-throw line, stayed at home on three-point shooters. There are a few quibbles here and there–we might’ve liked to see Andrei Kirilenko give Gay less room to maneuver at the point of attack; they blew a rotation with two minutes to play that resulted in a DeRozan three-point play–but, in general, when we see anybody besides Dirk Nowitzki circa 2010 taking contested long-range twos, we can conclude that the defense has done its job. Nevertheless, there were Gay and DeRozan deploying their full array of pivots, hesitations and crossovers, hitting contested jumper after contested jumper.
Still, a team could do worse than allowing its opponents’ two best scorers–both unreasonably accurate from outside and preying on mismatches–to tally 51 points on 46 shots. Much more problematic, if you ask me, were a) the Wolves’ inability to fully capitalize on their 40-16 free-throw advantage and b) their inability to parlay moderate leads into decisive leads, to complete the job of beating a team that, for a while, was begging to be beaten.
Lets dispense with part ‘a’ quickly, because it is both aggravating and tedious. The Wolves, as they do, got to the line a lot. And, just as typically, they missed 25% of those free-throws. They missed three out of their last six free-throws and, of course, Ricky Rubio missed the one that would have tied the game at 94 with 1.7 seconds remaining. There, done.
Now for ‘b.’ The Raptors played some stretches of truly listless defense, in which, for instance, Alexei Shved was allowed to dribble unimpeded to within five feet of the hoop and loft an uncontested floater and Chase Budinger was given free reign to run off flare screens, rise up with a nice, clear look at the hoop and hit some perfectly relaxed, unimpeded jumpers. What’s more, the Raptors were saddled with the problem that neither Jonas Valanciunas nor Aaron Gray seemed capable of single-covering Nikola Pekovic without blatantly fouling him.
And so, in the first three quarters, the Wolves were able, with relative ease, to cruise out to leads of nine, eight and 11–but no more than that. That they were unable to extend those leads into more forbidding territory is a testament to their simple lack of consistent execution. A case in point are the minutes following the third-quarter Andrei Kirilenko three that gave the Wolves their one and only double-digit lead. Ricky Rubio penetrates the Raptors’ defense but delivers a pass to Pekovic’s feet. Derrick Williams falls over while attempting a rather ornate spin move in isolation. Luke Ridnour dribbles the ball out of bounds. Rubio attempts to initiate the offense by entering the ball to Kirilenko at the elbow; but AK does not fully seal his defender and Rubio’s pass is too casual. Rudy Gay jumps into the passing lane and streaks to the other end of the floor for a breakaway dunk. The Wolves go to a 2-3 zone in order to contain Kyle Lowry’s dribble penetration–and yet Lowry still manages to split the two backcourt defenders and hit an open floater at the third-quarter buzzer.
And things only got worse over the first few minutes of the fourth quarter when Rubio got his rest and J.J. Barea took the opportunity to perfect his ball-pounding, clock-killing, impossible-jumper routine. Its worth noting that at no point during the 12-4 run that brought them back into the game did the Raptors look particularly dynamic on either end of the floor. Minnesota’s slack execution simply allowed them to crawl back into the game.
By the time Rubio had settled things back down with a series of shrewd pick-and-rolls, in the process remembering to take advantage of Pekovic down low, the one truly shining matchup advantage at the Wolves’ disposal, Toronto had gained a measure of confidence. Their defense started to buzz, Gay and DeRozan got hot. It ended badly.
It’s amazing how fun Ricky Rubio can be at times.
We know about the passing and the steals. We know he can crash the boards and break down opposing perimeter defenders. And we see glimpses of an improved jump shooter. In fact, over Rubio’s last 10 games, he’s over 40% from the field (41.2%) and he’s made 50% of his 3-point shots. Now, I wouldn’t say he’s fixed his ability to put the ball in the basket; it’s still very much a work in progress. But there are signs of improvement.
Two things I look for when Rubio taking a jumper are 1) was he readying himself before the pass got to him and 2) where is the arc on his shot? Continue Reading…