Archives For J.J. Barea

I like to talk about how a game’s unfolding–its ebbs and flows, the processes that shape its outcome, the feeling and texture of the performances–are more interesting to me, and ultimately more important than its final result. And I’ll stick to that assertion. Nevertheless, and despite any pretensions to journalistic professionalism (which, not too many)  I will admit this: I really want the Wolves to win.

I desperately, nauseously wanted them to win when KG was hammering away at the Lakers and Kings. I wanted them to win when they were slouching toward the lottery under Wittman, McHale and Rambis, draft positioning be damned. I wanted them to win when Rubio and Love were lighting hearts on fire. And although there’s supposedly nothing to play for at the moment, although the Wolves are fielding a raggedy crew of misfits and loners, many of whom likely won’t wear a Wolves uniform again after Thursday, I still want them to win now.

And so despite it all, despite the fact that I’m a grown man watching a bunch of young dudes play a game on TV, watching the Wolves, for the second time in a month, fritter away a 20-point lead to the grievously undermanned Golden State Warriors, I found myself: groaning, sighing, clasping my face in my hands, noticing feelings of dread rise in my gut. I don’t care that it was the penultimate game of a long-destroyed season; it still felt terrible.

They lost this game because they simply could not score in the second half. (20 points in the third quarter, 13 in the fourth, 25% shooting for the half: that’s about as close to zero as it gets in the NBA.) You can expect that a team that boasts Klay Thompson, Brandon Rush and Charles Jenkins (who is shooting 32.9% over the past 10 games but is evidently the greatest point guard in the NBA when he is being guarded by J.J. Barea) will begin hitting shots at some point in a game. But the Warriors employed what is now a familiar late-game defensive strategy against our Love-less Wolves: choke the Barea/Pekovic pick-and-roll by exaggeratedly sagging into the paint (in the process deterring people like Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph from getting to the rim); wait for the Wolves to start taking and missing outside shots. Full stop.

But I don’t want to burden you with gory details. We all know this crew is capable of some truly ungodly basketball. Let’s talk about the elements of this game that bear some relevance to the Wolves’ future.

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What was a foregone conclusion is now an actual mathematical reality: the Timberwolves are not going to make the  playoffs this year. From where we sit now–after this catastrophic run of injuries, after this recent spate of rotten, dispirited performances–it’s hard to believe that this was even a thing, that the Wolves very briefly sat in the Western Conference’s 8th spot, emanating gallons of positive vibes in the process. The truth is that by now we shouldn’t even be disappointed; we knew this was coming from the moment Ricky Rubio took that awkward, unfortunate step while attempting to double-team Kobe Bryant. It’s fine, really.

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The cruelties of the NBA schedule are beginning to catch up to the Wolves. To begin with, they are wading through the mire of a seven-game road trip, one that seems to grow more punishing as it goes on and that includes games against the three best teams in the Western Conference. Trips like this are almost an inevitability in a season as surreal as this one. Perhaps no less inevitable is the idea that players’ bodies will begin to break down as the year wears on. Sure enough, the Wolves have fallen victim to that one too.

During this evening’s game in Sacramento, a nightmarish idea started playing through my head: that  without Rubio and the suddenly emergent Nikola Pekovic, and with J.J. Barea and Michael Beasley knackered with nagging injuries, the Wolves begin more and more to resemble the team of the past two seasons. That’s a paranoid thought for sure; I’m guessing that Rick Adelman and superstar-mode Kevin Love will have something to say before that happens. Paranoid, too, because every team plays games in which their attention and energies slacken. Nevertheless, for a few reasons, this 16-point loss to the Kings brought back some awful memories.

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Everybody loves March Madness and you can hardly blame them. The frantic, frayed late-game possessions; the mad, ten-man scrambles for rebounds and loose balls; the blood-thinning, oxygen starved comebacks; kids holding hands; grown men shedding tears: this stuff is truly compelling. But I will tell you now that I’m perfectly content sticking with the NBA, even as the tournament rages on.

For one thing, the players are better at basketball and I really appreciate that. But for another, even your average NBA game carries a certain narrative richness, a structural depth that the college game really can’t match. Matchups evolve over the long course of the game. Players surge and regress. Momentum wavers and shifts many times over.

Take, for example, this game here between the Wolves and the Jazz. There were at least three moments in the game when it seemed that the Wolves were poised to overtake Utah and make a significant run. And there were at least as many when it seemed that the Jazz had the Wolves buried. Wes Johnson went cold and then got hot. Nik Pekovic smashed, disappeared and then returned to smash again. The Wolves went through phases worthy, in their brevity and extremity, of a hormone-addled 15-year-old boy. First they couldn’t seem to cross half-court; then they couldn’t miss a shot; then they couldn’t manage an entry pass, despite many tries at it. Effing madness.

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Great heights

Benjamin Polk —  December 29, 2011 — Leave a comment

For all of the strange and bewildering things that David Kahn has done in his tenure as Wolves’ GM, I would argue that the national media has actually managed to overstate his ineptitude. But in the case of Ethan Sherwood Strauss’ Truehoop piece on height exaggeration in the NBA, I’d say that the rep is well-earned. As Strauss says, “perhaps I am cynical and paranoid, but I could easily envision a dystopian future where David Kahn successfully trades ‘7-1′ Michael Beasley.” Yeah I guess I could too.

Anyone who has spent any time in the Wolves’ locker room knows that Kevin Love is about as close to 6’10” as I am to six feet, which is to say not close. Strauss even presents some damning evidence: a photo of K-Love standing next to the 6’8″ Derrick Williams. Strauss generously says that Love is at Williams’ “height-level,” but it looks to me like Love is a even whisp shorter. And J.J. Barea at 6’0″? I have stood next to J.J. Barea and I will tell you now that he is not a hair taller than I am. I’m pretty proud of this.

I was shocked to hear that Bonzi Wells has been invited to the Wolves’ training camp and even more shocked to hear that he is only 35 years old. Considering that Bonzi played serious minutes on a team that included Scottie Pippen, Arvydas Sabonis and Detlef Schrempf,  I had him pegged for at least 50. But I was wrong and right now he’s a Wolf. Come to think of it, the Wolves could use an upgrade at center; I wonder if Sabonis is still in playing shape?

Even more surprising: the Wolves are also pursuing NBA Finals hero and bona fide Small Person J.J. Barea. Anyone else thinking what I’m thinking? a three-guard lineup featuring Rubio, Ridnour, Barea? Am I right? But for real: is another primary ball handler really what the Wolves need?

Speaking of perimeter players: now that the Chris-Paul-to-the-Lakers deal is in ashes (beautifully played everybody), I’m curious whether Kevin Martin remains available. He makes a chunk of change ($11.5 million this year and $12.4 million next year), he never passes the ball and the Wolves rotten perimeter D wouldn’t be made any less rotten, but Martin is the most efficient high volume perimeter scorer in the league–and the Wolves could definitely use a little of that.

And by the way, isn’t it delicious to see the Wolves’ unprotected 1st round pick bandied about in Chris Paul trade rumors? Oh Kevin McHale, will your gifts ever stop giving?