When a comparatively raw team like the Minnesota Timberwolves (average age 24.5, plus they’ve had Ricky Rubio back for about 6 percent of a whole season, Kevin Martin for 10 percent, Nikola Pekovic for 16 percent) runs into a well-oiled buzzsaw like the Golden State Warriors (average age 26.7, best record in the league, 2nd in offensive rating, 1st in defensive rating) and struggles early, it sets up an interesting problem. Continue Reading…
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Early in Minnesota’s 102-86 loss to the Golden State Warriors, Andrew Bogut was hobbling up and down the floor. It was unclear what was wrong at the time, but it was clear he needed to be taken out. Swiftly, new Golden State head coach Steve Kerr moved to put in backup Festus Ezeli. Bogut would not return to the game.
Golden State came into to the game already a man down, having lost David Lee to a hamstring injury during the Warriors’ season opener. This was not an ideal situation for the Warriors, who have faced the consequence of injury struggles come playoff time the past couple years.
Tonight, however, the Warriors faced off against a Timberwolves team that, when fully healthy, is probably still a worse team than Golden State was short-manned. But Minnesota isn’t healthy right now.
Kevin Garnett got traded.
Not like, recently, but he got traded back in 2007 when the dream of the Minnesota Timberwolves putting something significant around one of the greatest all around players ever to lace up the kicks had been taken off of life support. Because of the soul-sucking numbness that trade caused 25-year old Zach Harper (YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT! THIRD PERSON TALK, SON!), the eventual trade of Kevin Love hasn’t left me devastated or annoyed or angry. It’s just been something that we all knew was a possibility when David Kahn put the Wolves in the situation of three years with an opt out.
I won’t pretend I was outraged at the time. I wrote that it put pressure on the organization and it was something that would force them to become good or risk losing him. I’m a big fan of forcing the cream to rise to the top because it weeds out who belongs and who doesn’t belong. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for the Wolves. Their two best chances at making the playoffs came the last two seasons. In 2012-13, they were decimated by injuries and couldn’t field decent teams. In 2013-14, the Wolves simply weren’t good enough and the clock was ticking on Kevin Love’s free agency.
Love will be traded. He’s not going to stay. And it’s on the Wolves’ management/owner/coach to bring back the best return in a deal that will almost always be a losing cause. Therein lies the problem of the entire situation. Continue Reading…
It was easy to say that the Wolves’ horrifying struggles in close games were a statistical anomaly. In the abstract, we always knew that a few lucky bounces were all that separated the Wolves from a record more befitting their point differential. (Seriously, how strange is it that for all of this team’s problems, they could easily be sitting in the fifth or sixth seed right now?) But after seeing how this team has performed in close games it became much harder to imagine how they would actually manage to win one. This wasn’t just bad luck; there are actual reasons that the Wolves have been so bad in late-game situations. They are short on shooters, which allows teams to trap ballhandlers and collapse into the paint. Their offense relies on getting to the free-throw line and refs tend to swallow their whistles late in games. They are given to moments of insane decision-making. They are simply inconsistent in their execution on both ends of the floor.
It’s not as if any of these things changed on Friday evening in Oakland. In the final three minutes of this impossibly close game, the Wolves did the following: committed a turnover on an entry pass; nearly committed a shot-clock violation; missed a wide-open three; fouled a three-point shooter; committed a foul in the backcourt, up one with 30 seconds to go while in the penalty.
But, somehow, they made just enough plays to win the game, and a road game against a playoff team at that. Ricky Rubio made a midrange jumper after Love fought through a triple team to shovel him the ball. Brewer hit an incredibly cold-blooded, contested corner three. They were able to get the ball out of Stephen Curry’s hands on the final key possessions. Finally, Kevin Martin hit a clutch, last-second jumper, the first such shot for the Wolves, really, since the season’s first game. Make no mistake: this was a huge win for the Wolves and, at the risk of undue optimism, one that could set them on a new path.
J.J. Barea sat in front of his locker reading down a ripped box score sheet after the game. Nikola Pekovic leaned over to look at it and a member of the PR team walking by offered a crisp, freshly printed one to Pek. “I don’t need it,” he said, and returned to putting his socks on.
Barea looked at it another minute, then crumpled it up and threw it on the floor. Continue Reading…
I would like to preface this post with the fact that I have full confidence in Rick Adelman’s coaching abilities, fully believe in his philosophies when it comes to basketball, and think his offensive system is superb. I will never pretend to know as much about basketball theory or even half of the practical applications of said theories in comparison to Rick Adelman.
The offense of the Minnesota Timberwolves is crucial. This isn’t so much basketball theory as an expectation of what’s in store for us this season. I’m not breaking any ground in telling you that the Wolves have to be good on offense. This isn’t news to anybody reading this site. The Wolves need to score points and we expect that they’ll need to score a lot of points in order to neutralize whatever shortcomings are there on defense. We felt this way going into last season. Points wouldn’t be the problem; defense would.
Turns out that was backwards but mostly due to an injury rash that turned into an injury flesh-eating bacteria. Kevin Love went down. Ricky Rubio came back but missed significant time while needing a month or two to get back to where he needed to be. Brandon Roy never materialized. Chase Budinger went down for the middle of the season with love handles on each side of that middle. Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko were sporadically banged up. The season fell apart before we could even see how it fit together.
And that’s why the offense of the Wolves is so crucial this year. I think we see frustration this early from Rick Adelman for two reasons: 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.
I know that it seemed as if the Warriors only took control of this game with their commanding 19-2 second half run, that, until that point, the game was the Wolves’ to win. After all, didn’t the Wolves did boast a double-digit first half lead and play evenly until that rickety fourth quarter? But despite some nice bench play from the likes of Shved and Cunningham, the answer is: only sort of. The truth is, the Wolves never put together an extended stretch of truly competent play. Their offensive execution was painfully inconsistent and while they defended with effort, their defense was marked by some serious structural problems. As Zach told us yesterday, this is no time to panic. The return of this many important players at one time is bound to cause some awkwardness and disarray. But lets not sugarcoat things: this was a pretty bad game from our Wolves.
Ok, ok. We already know that these Wolves have been massacred by injury, have seen a season of beautiful renewal utterly incinerate itself, have been robbed by history of even a good reason to tank (see more on this below), are fielding a roster that I’m pretty sure would have a good shot at the D-League championship. Thank you lockout-compressed schedule, for all of the marvelous gifts you continue to give.
With all of these things being true, Wolves fans are faced with an all-too-familiar scenario. When the Wolves play really well, when they play with great energy, when unexpected players go off, when they hit their shots and play inspired D, they are very nearly (but not quite) capable of winning a game. When they play just ok, they have no chance and lose by double-digits. And when they play especially poorly, as they did tonight in Indianapolis…really, really terrible things start to happen.
I’m not the biggest video game nerd in the world, but I used to go nuts over playing Mega Man. There was something so captivating about a guy in a little blue, pixelated suit, trying to shoot Kix cereal at bad guys coming at you from right to left.
Maybe I was just a huge Running Man fan as a child because there was the Light Bright guy trying to saw the Terminator in half or something. I’m not quite sure what the allure was. But I had a really fun time jumping and shooting at attackers from all angles. When they had a sequel of Mega Man in which you could earn powers and become a guy wielding wind or fire or earth or the Temptations, it was hard for me to imagine having more fun playing a video game as a kid. They had taken such a simple concept and added options for attack.
Mega Man had so many weapons now and it was fun to experiment with them on different levels and see which ones got you through the battles on any given pixelated plane. It’s a lot like watching Kevin Love the last two seasons. Kevin Love is the Mega Man of the NBA. He’s unassuming from the outsider’s perspective. You wouldn’t expect the evolution of a stretch-4 to be looking at your right in the face when you see him. Continue Reading…