Archives For New Orleans Hornets

With the Timberwolves welcoming back Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko to the starting lineup after nearly three weeks on the shelf, last night’s win over the New Orleans Hornets was a case study in shaking off the rust.

So let’s start by looking at some of Pek’s play on the defensive end in the first quarter. Here are several defensive possessions by the Wolves that leave a lot to be desired, particularly from Pek:

There’s an airballed hookshot, poor defensive rotations, apathetic rebounding effort, and lead-footed pick-and-roll defense.

But wait: suspend your judgment for a moment because there’s more at work here than just a lack of effort. First of all, neither Pekovic nor Kirilenko actually got to practice with the team before coming back. Normally, there are a set of steps that a player goes through to work back from an injury that involve gradual steps from conditioning to shooting to contact and eventually to full 5-on-5 work. But with the Wolves only dressing nine players for the last several weeks and a jam-packed schedule full of back-to-backs that isn’t allowing for many practices, they didn’t have much choice. Continue Reading…

So the Minnesota Timberwolves are a little shorthanded at the moment. They’ve churned their way through waves of fractured metacarpals, strained and torn knee ligaments, spasmed backs. They’ve cycled through backcourt combinations and shed multiple layers of wing players. They have descended so far into the black hole that Lazar Hayward’s illness takes real on-court significance.

It would probably be journalistic malpractice not to mention that Kevin Love and JJ Barea and Rick Adelman all missed Friday’s game in New Orleans. So there, I mentioned it. But fretting about such things, decrying our foul luck and muttering about what ought to have been, has become a truly futile, almost passe exercise, like complaining about congress or your stupid boss. At some point you just have to accept the fact that there certain aspects of reality are so asinine and unfair as to not warrant further mental anguish. And, really, the Wolves’ rotten luck has to be the least of these.

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I kept waiting for Jonny Flynn to check in.

I’m not even trying to be a smartass here. That game felt a lot like last season and it was a malaise over the team that I just didn’t want any part of anymore. Maybe that’s why it’s taken a day for me to sit down and write this recap. If I don’t write it, if we don’t talk about it, if we pretend everything is just fine then maybe it will go back to how it used to be. But that’s not the reality. The reality is injuries happen and everybody has to deal with it.

To expect the Wolves to lose Ricky Rubio Friday night and then come into the next day’s game without a practice and without a shoot around and still come out with fire seems a little unfair. The Wolves had very little time to process the news as a team. There were certain members of the team that probably assumed the worst Friday night. There were guys that didn’t know the news until some time on Saturday. The “grieving process” was truncated much like this season.

Even still, the Wolves had a home game against the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday night and there was no reason to lose that game. We all had flashbacks to last season. Kevin Love put up insane numbers once again. His 31 points and 16 rebounds happened almost effortlessly. He tipped in missed shots. He faced up and made jumpers. He got to the free throw line and made nine of those 10 attempts. It was a pretty easy scoring night as he put guys like Lance Thomas and Gustavo Ayon in a hurt locker for much of the game.

Speaking of effortless, the Wolves’ defense seemed to be completely uninspired. They gave up 44 points in the paint to a Hornets team that employs Chris Kaman as the best scoring option. Only eight of his team-high 20 points came inside. The rest were on jumpers from all over the baseline. Marco Belinelli, Gustavo Ayon, and Lance Thomas helped score inside. The Wolves watched the ball move and then reacted. There was little anticipation. Positioning was off-kilter.

Everything was a fog of excrement.

Offensively, it was probably worse. The team turned the ball over 17 times and gave up 25 points off of those turnovers. In the previous 10 games with Ricky, they were averaging 13 turnovers per game and only 15 points off of them. Luke seemed tentative setting guys up early and it set the tone for how the rest of the game finished. Guys didn’t move the ball like they had been doing. Movement without the ball was minimal.

As Inspectah Deck once said, “Life without Ricky shouldn’t be so tough.”

I’m not so sure that the Wolves were running a lot of plays under Ricky. It was basically calling out a pick-and-roll half the time and seeing where his magic carpet ride of passing would take them. Saturday night, that carpet was stuck in neutral and incapable of going anywhere. Broken plays turned into facepalms. Executed sets became bailouts for a horrible Hornets team. The Wolves got out to a decent start offensively because Love and Pekovic were dominating the interior. Once the Hornets closed off offensive rebounding areas, the Wolves had no answer.

Malcolm Lee made his debut and he wasn’t terrible. His defense, especially the help defense, was vaguely energizing. He blocked a couple of shots, got a steal and sealed off driving lanes by Greivis Vasquez. Offensively, he looked like a deer in headlights trying to set the team up. He picked up his dribble early to move the ball to the next station. He had one nice drive to the basket that he ended up missing a layup to finish. Other than that, there wasn’t a lot of leadership with him on the floor.

Wayne Ellington had the cobwebs dusted off of him and he scored 12 points off the bench. He was one of the few guys that didn’t hesitate when he got the ball. He just caught it and fired, like you’d expect an NBA shooter to do. It made me think that the Wolves are going to need more of this and more of Beasley initiating offense off the bench if they want to survive the next 24 games.

The Wolves shot poorly (5/23 from 3-point range), only Luke moved the ball (mostly in the fourth), and you rarely saw this team get out in transition to get easy scoring chances.

Maybe this game was a wakeup call for Minnesota. Ricky is gone, this is the worst it can probably get, and the team needs to rally for the rest of the season. Or maybe this is the norm of what we’re going to see – a lot of flashbacks from last season in real time right now. Personally, I’d be shocked if Adelman let this team feel sorry for itself for very long. This isn’t Kurt Rambis sauntering through his workday. This is one of the better NBA coaches of the last 25 years figuring out adjustments for this team.

Here’s hoping we don’t look down the bench anymore out of habit and wonder when Jonny Flynn will get minutes.

Watching two mediocre, undermanned teams grind their way to a combined 36.25% shooting, 52-foul masterpiece is probably no one’s idea of edifying basketball. But if you are a Wolves fan, it’s pretty encouraging that a game so raggedly played, so obviously stricken by the painful reality of playing five times in eight nights (with more to come!), could actually end up in the win column. In the fourth quarter, facing fatigue and  surging opponent, the Wolves managed to make enough plays to steal the game. This isn’t something we’re used to.

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