We can’t all be Kobe Bryant. In fact, these are the nights we wonder how Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant. He should’ve been in bed like the rest of us; wallowing in self pity and reaching for that second pint of ice cream. Instead, there he was, pirouetting into those patented fadeaways, jumping passing lanes, and whipping assists to teammates. If dislocations, torn ligaments, aching knees, a broken nose and a concussion won’t slow him down, then Kobe has simply run out of ways to amaze us. We applaud his excellence with a yawn and shake of the head.
Kevin Love, on the other hand, didn’t play tonight; presumably bed ridden with reported flu-like symptoms. This doesn’t make him weak, or any less of a competitor, it just makes the Wolves a befuddled mess. They’d gotten by without him before–including much of the previous night–however those are the exceptions, not the rule.
Or did you expect the bench to outscore our starters for the second straight contest? Well, they did (49-36), but Kobe (31) almost did too. There simply weren’t enough shooters to keep the defense honest, there weren’t enough post threats on either side of the ball to negate the Lakers size advantage, and there never has been a slasher to keep things moving, much less compete with a Hall of Famer.
“Hanging around. Hanging around. Kid’s got alligator blood. Can’t get rid of him.” – Teddy KGB.
It starts with a run. The Clippers came out of halftime, inexplicably only up three points and looking to put this game away early. A layup from Randy Foye drops in. Blake Griffin hits a jump shot. Randy Foye makes a 3-pointer off of a pass from Blake. The Clippers are carving up a young Wolves’ team with passing and effort. They’re being more physical. They’re quicker to the ball. They’re now up 10 within the blink of an eye.
For some reason this season, the Wolves find a way to stick around. There are plenty of games in which I’ve watched the action unfold before my eyes, then look up at the scoreboard and wonder how Minnesota had kept it so close. They have sneak ways of going on runs immediately after an opponent’s run. And it’s rarely anything but subtle.
Luke Ridnour made a technical free throw after an illegal defense. After a missed 3, an offensive rebound by Rubio and DeAndre Jordan swatting a shot attempt, the Wolves got a stop against the Clippers. Pek gets to the foul line for two, Wes hits a jumper off the Rubio setup, and then Rubio finds Wes in transition for the layup. All of a sudden, the 10-point lead is a two-point deficit and you’re back in the grind of the game.
The story of the mini-runs and the grind it out mentality of this team kept them in it. But the bench certainly won the game for the Wolves tonight.
12-year-old me and present-day me probably would not agree on all that much. He desperately loved Cinnamon Toast Crunch and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and wearing extremely puffy pants with your best silk print shirt, whereas I do not. And I might not have been able to convince him of the benefits of getting massively stoned and listening to King Tubby. On the other hand, we would certainly agree on one simple fact: dunks are awesome. He was partial to MJ’s pivoting, hand-on-the-floor throwdown over Patrick Ewing, while I might counter with Blake Griffin’s spinning, open-floor crushing of Danilo Gallinari. But on the basics, we would agree.
Given that knowledge, what exactly is wrong with the dunk contest? We might as well expand the question and ask ourselves what, for a basketball lover, felt so desultory about all of All-Star Saturday night. Because their bodies are so sleek and coordinated and powerful and because they have such mastery of the skills inherent to the game, when they play against air, their actions appear so effortless as to be pretty much vacuumed of all drama. Without competition, there’s no struggle; without a struggle to magnify and draw out the full measure of those incredible skills, there’s nothing to see. Even the three-point contest–which I normally find pretty engrossing simply for the rhythmic, hypnotic sight of the ball going through the net over and over–underwhelmed. Kevin Love is a fine shooter and all, and I’m crazy about the guy as a player, but the fact that he won tells you all that you need to know about the quality of this year’s competition.
And although its certainly impressive to know that Chase Budinger can jump over a famous hip-hop producer or that Jeremy Evans can dunk two balls at once, that same purposelessness applies to the dunk contest. The best dunks emerge suddenly, out of ordinary time, injecting very small moments with a revitalizing shock, a vibration that expands and extends those moments in our consciousness. The dunk contest lacks both the oppositional force (Jordan shredding that double-team, Ewing rising to contest) and the suddenness of of those great in-game dunks. We know exactly what to expect and the dunks themselves–black lights and glow-in-the-dark strips and motorcycles and capes and head-mounted video cameras and cupcakes notwithstanding–do very little to exceed those expectations.
So what could we do to fix this? Well, we could try getting Kenny Smith to ask a thorzine-mouthed, wasted-on-himself P. Diddy about his new projects. We could get Kevin Hart to dress up like a mailman. We could thrill the nation with a Cedric Ceballos cameo. We could get Flo-Rida to karaoke their second-best song. We could ask Big Shaq and Chuck and Reggie to convene an on-mic, cigar aficionado frat party. Oh I know, since the problem with previous dunk-contests was clearly that they were improperly judged, we could just start our own little social media revolution and allow the 99% (over three million people, we’re told, chiming in via text or the Twitter) to vote for the winner…aaaaand those three million people could promptly select the gangly
Evans who, if you ask me, was no better than third out of four. (The two best dunks of the night–again, if you’re asking me–were Paul George’s Larry Bird tribute and Derrick Williams’ 360 off the side of the backboard, if for no other reason than the fact that Ricky Rubio was giggling throughout the entire thing.)
We could try all of those things and the sparse crowd could still greet the proceedings with an email-checking, hot dog-eating non-enthusiasm punctuated by a smattering of lukewarm applause and even the occasional boo (for Evans’ first, decidedly unimpressive dunk). What was merely boring could now become overstimulating and occasionally cringe-inducing. I’m left now with the same feeling that always seems to descend on me during the aimless spectacularity of All-Star weekend: the desire to watch an actual NBA game.
That was the weirdest and most fun comeback I’ve experienced in a long time.
There was no reason for the Wolves to win that game last night and maybe that’s why the comeback was so fun. Everything was working against Minnesota for so long in that game, that the comeback never really seemed real to me until the final minute of the game. The Wolves were essentially without three of their starters for most of this contest, even though they logged a combined 99 minutes in the game.
Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic were not good last night. Rubio looked slow and incapable of running the offense. He made a couple of 3-pointers, but he seemed more intent on earning foul calls than getting quality shots in the second half. Nikola Pekovic was playing on a bum ankle, but didn’t seem to be really affected by it. He just couldn’t make shots inside, no matter how many times he grabbed the rebound. And then there was Kevin Love.
Before the game, Love talked about how he’s wiped out physically. During the first few minutes of the game, it looked like something was seriously wrong with him. When Utah jumped out to an early lead, Adelman called a timeout to quell the storm. As Love came to the bench, he was completely red and sucking in as much oxygen as he could possibly manage. He had his head in a towel with Michael Beasley trying to offer words of encouragement. It looked as though he had an illness, and maybe he did if you consider pure exhaustion to be an ailment.
So there the Wolves were; getting their teeth kicked in by an impressive frontcourt. First 20 points of the game for Utah were scored in the paint. They were bullying Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic like it was two Darkos. Passes were being picked off, dribbles were being lost and the easiest of interior shots were complicated endeavors. Continue Reading…
Patience is supposed to be a virtue, but there rarely seems to be room for it in today’s sporting world.
Rookies get drafted and we immediately start wondering how they’re going to get 36 minutes per game to fulfill their destiny of saving the franchise. If they’re a high draft pick, then immediate impact is expected and nothing can be brought along slowly. The problem with this intensity of expectation is it assumes every draft class happens in a vacuum.
There are some years in which a draft is loaded with All-Star potential. There are also some years in which you get unlucky by acquiring a top-7 pick because the talent pool just isn’t there. It’s hard to know it in the moment or even immediately after we start seeing these rookies at the NBA level. Because you “never know when a guy is going to surprise all of his doubters” and become an elite NBA talent.
Derrick Williams is caught up in this very problem right now, whether he’s aware of it or not. The number-two pick in the NBA draft is supposed to be a superstar, no matter what. And so far, D Dub has been underwhelming based on the stigma and expectations that come with the draft pick used on him. He isn’t starting and he isn’t getting consistent minutes. He doesn’t really fit in with where the Wolves are right now. Continue Reading…
While some might complain about Kevin Love’s suspension being unjust, I’m trying to look at it as a positive thing.
I’ve grown tired of Kevin Love’s complaining to officials this season. I’m fine if he wants to belabor a point or fight for his team verbally during stoppages in play, but when he’s taking an extra second or two to turnaround and complain to a referee that is booking it up the floor to keep up with the action (hint, hint: Kevin you should too), I find it disheartening to see a brief 4-on-5 defensive effort.
It’s not something that happens all the time. It happens maybe two or three times per game at most. It’s not costing the Wolves games either. It’s just a poor decision he makes that puts his team at risk of giving up scores and at a certain point, enough is enough.
The good thing about this suspension is it gives a real test to Nikola Pekovic, Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams to step up and prove their production without the attention defenses pay to Kevin Love. Anybody could argue that everybody on the Wolves benefits from Love’s presence out there and they certainly do to some extent. But that isn’t the reason someone like Ricky Rubio gets a lot of assists or Nikola Pekovic is able to have a presence inside.
With Love out last night, the entire team had a chance to prove themselves and they did a pretty good job. There were times when his absence was felt. The Wolves got sloppy with the ball, forced shots they normally wouldn’t have to take and had to deal with DeMarcus Cousins dominating the boards in the third quarter. However, players stepped up when they needed to and the Wolves dodged a bullet at the end to secure the win. Continue Reading…
The NBA today announced that Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio has been named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for games played from the start of the season (Dec. 25) through January. The honor is the first of Rubio’s career and just the fourth Rookie of the Month Award in franchise history.
Rubio ranks fifth among rookies in scoring (11.4 ppg) and first in assists (8.9 apg) and steals (2.24 spg). The first-year guard is tied for first in the NBA in point/assist double-doubles with nine and he ranks 12th overall in double-doubles. In 11 games as a starter, the Wolves are 7-4 with Rubio averaging 12.5 ppg, 9.7 apg, 5.5 rpg and 2.82 spg. Overall, he ranks 4th in the league in assists with 8.9 apg and 3rd in steals with 2.24 spg.
There’s are pretty impressive numbers when you look at em like that. And hey just because it feels good:
Dirk Nowitzki didn’t play against the Wolves Wednesday night. Does it cheapen the road victory?
It’s easy to look at this game flippantly and just assume the Wolves got a road victory in Dallas because the Mavericks were missing their best player. And on many levels, that certainly helps the gameplan and execution of the Wolves on both ends of the court. It changes the game for both sides and gives the Mavericks fewer outs on broken possessions. However, to look at Dirk’s injury and then ignore the Wolves’ bevy of bang-ups is too much oversight and not enough credit for the Wolves’ gritty performance in Dallas.
No J.J. Barea, no Luke Ridnour, no Martell Webster, no Malcom Lee. That’s a lot of guards on one roster to be absent from a game. It left the Wolves with Ricky Rubio, Wayne Ellington and Wes Johnson as the only players familiar with the backcourt.
The kind of strain that can put on such a young backcourt is immeasurable. The Dallas Mavericks’ defensive system isn’t the title-clinching plastic bag that is not to be used as a toy we saw last year, but it’s also not the essence of benevolent resistance you would assume from a unit anchored by Brendan Haywood. Dallas was the third best defense in the NBA heading into this game, and despite missing their franchise’s best player and leader, they still had a very deep and difficult backcourt ready to battle two wing players and a microphone rookie point guard. Continue Reading…
You may have heard that there is a famous rookie playing for the Timberwolves. That this rookie is becoming beloved by his hometown fans and a darling of the national press. That this rookie is hugely impacting his new team’s fortunes on the court–on offense, on defense, in wins, in hope and happiness. What is a bit strange, though, is that this rookie is not Derrick Williams, NCAA tournament icon, second pick of the 2011 NBA draft, answer to our wing scoring prayers.
Williams so far shares Beasley’s predilection for the off-the-dribble midrange jumper (a taste I’d love to see him weaned off of). But he has been more dynamic than Beasley as a ball-handler, more willing and able explode into the lane and draw contact. And I’ve also been impressed with his willingness and ability to scuffle for easy baskets on the glass and in transition when the offense is not flowing through him (which it usually isn’t). In Williams, I think we’ve seen the inklings of a fairly uncommon virtue: fearlessness and skill with the ball coupled with patience.
All of this is true, I suppose, but five games or so later, it’s not exactly getting at the heart of the matter. Because the truth is that right now Williams looks fairly lost offensively, unsure of how to adapt his game to his new surroundings.