The Timberwolves were playing without three of their four essential players and therefore faced an insurmountable talent disadvantage. They missed many free-throws and even more threes. They labored to salvage tiny scraps of offensive production. They lacked the personnel to seriously impede their opponent’s offensive execution. Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before. Once revealed, the patterns are relentless. Nevertheless, some observations on this loss in Portland:
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For the final play of the Wolves-Blazers game, Rick Adelman drew up a play that gave Ricky Rubio a fairly basic pick-and-roll set with the floor spread and plenty of options off of that play. And the Wolves actually ran it really well. They ended up with Dante Cunningham pump-faking, nearly traveling, and then having to rush a jumper just a bit against his defender.
After the game, Adelman described the play they ran:
“The last play was a bang-bang play. I thought it was the best play we had. Pek might have been open rolling down the middle. At least he was going right to the basket and forcing the action. Dante made a nice pump fake, missed the shot but he’s not used to having the ball in his hands like that.”
Cunningham had made eight of his 10 shot attempts in the fourth quarter and was 20 for his last 25 heading into that final play. The Wolves options on the play were essentially spot-up shooting from Barea and Shved on the two sides, Rubio driving to the basket, Pek rolling to the basket or DC pupping near the top of the key.
“When Rick draws up a play, it’s not only one option,” Rubio said in the locker room after the game. “You never know what’s going to happen. It was like a different option and I felt that was the best option because he was shooting pretty good. But they defended it pretty good too.”
How good was the play and could it have been better? Let’s take a look. Continue Reading…
The idea of wanting it more than the other team is a confusing concept to me. Wanting it more doesn’t really mean anything positive, necessarily. Do the Wolves lose games because they don’t want to win enough? Or do they lose games because they don’t want to win it correctly? Or do they lose games because they are simply too banged up?
After playing an abominable 38 minutes to start out against the Portland Trail Blazers Monday night, the Wolves found some pride and decided to fight back by executing basketball plays. It sounds simple because… well, it is simple. When the Wolves play basketball like they’re designed to play, good things can happen. It doesn’t mean they’d always win if they played the way they’re supposed to. Certain match-ups will always be problematic for what they have for personnel.
However, watching them run pick-and-rolls, pick-and-pops, and get controlled dribble penetration in the fourth quarter against a team like Portland showed they have potential to compete even with the current injuries.
After Saturday night’s blowout victory over the Pelicans, I said it was really hard to learn anything from a blowout win or loss because you don’t see your team tested or responding. Have enough blowout losses in a short amount of time and you’ll learn that your team just isn’t very good, but having them sporadically really just means they’re random occurrences rather than tell-tale signs. But when your team keeps consistently getting down big early in games and then has to fight its way back, what does that teach you?
What it teaches the Wolves’ team is a lesson. Continue Reading…
Here’s Rick Adelman lamenting the Wolves’ effort against Portland last night: “I just hope this game taught our guys a lesson, because for the first three quarters we hung our heads, we didn’t make shots, we didn’t compete like we have to compete.” On the face of things, even through the first three quarters, this game appeared relatively even. Both teams shot poorly overall, the Blazers just a few percentage points better than the Wolves (indeed the Wolves made one more field goal than Portland on the game). The Wolves out-rebounded the Blazers by a significant margin and played solid on-the-ball defense. Free throws were roughly even; turnovers were even.
The Portland Trail Blazers have experienced a remarkably tumultuous season so far. They began the year setting fire to the league. They were humming on offense, beating really good teams, doing a fair impression of a serious contender. Then everything came apart. By the trade deadline, the coach had been fired and half the team had been traded away. This looked for all the world like a team entering shutdown mode, playing for cap room and lottery positioning.
Except, strangely, they haven’t really been much worse than they were before their grand implosion. Nevertheless, I had somehow conceived of this as a winnable game for the Wolves, as if a formerly good team playing out the string was somehow more vulnerable than a formerly good team playing without four of their top six players. But I was wrong about that.
The NBA trade deadline has come and gone and the Wolves roster looks exactly the same as it did when we woke up this morning. The juiciest rumor had been a proposed three-team deal between the Lakers, Blazers and Wolves that would have sent Michael Beasley to L.A., Luke Ridnour to Portland (along with Steve Blake and LA’s first-rounder) and netted Jamal Crawford for the Wolves. But when we saw that the Lakers had used their picks to score Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill, we had to know that the deal had to be dead.
Now, there’s no question that it might have been nice to see the Wolves improve the roster or net a pick by moving Beasley rather than allowing him to become a restricted free-agent this summer. And it would also have been nice to land Crawford, upgrading their offensive production at the two-guard. But to my mind, the price of that deal was a little high. First of all, while Beasley alone for Crawford might not have a been an exactly equal deal for Portland, Beasley and Ridnour together seems a bit much. Ridnour has actually been a more efficient, though considerably lower-volume, scorer than Crawford over the past three seasons. He’s also a much better passer and defender, even when giving up multiple inches at the two.
Given that the Wolves claim to be pursuing a playoff spot this season, a starting backcourt of J.J. Barea and Jamal Crawford seems to be conspicuously lacking in an actual playmaker, someone who can consistently serve the ball to Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. And even if it was a Crawford/Rubio pairing the Wolves were ultimately after, Crawford has an opt-out clause in his contract for next season. In other words, the Wolves would have been trading their only healthy true point guard for a high-volume gunner who wasn’t even guaranteed to be around past July. Seems like they lucked out to me.
Timberwolves’ fans should be glad that Saturday’s game against the Blazers was not decided on the basis of a head-to-head matchup between Wes Johnson or Michael Beasley and Gerald Wallace. Wallace’s game is a study in the contrast between the immense, relentless energy he expends and the languid, loose-limbed way he physically expresses that energy. Watching him attack the basket, scramble for rebounds, streak into passing lanes–well its a really a thing of beauty.
All of which made it a little bit hard for me to watch Wes and Beaz saunter through their time on the floor. That Beasley would be slow to loose balls or would fail to match the energy of one of the league’s most inspiring wing defenders is not a terrible shock and, at this point, doesn’t seem to be worth lamenting (although there are moments…). But Wes Johnson really mystifies me at the moment. I know that he is still a novice when it comes to NBA team defense and that he currently lacks the instinct for negotiating screens and defending the myriad articulations of the pick-and-roll. Ok, fine.