The Wolves lost a 103-101 heartbreaker Friday night against the Heat and Birthday Boy LeBron James. It was a heartbreaker both because of the promise the Wolves showed and the mistakes they made, as well as because the defeat is the latest tick in a growing tally of losses to start the 2011/12 season.
The Wolves looked like a different team from the group that suffered the lackluster defeat in Milwaukee Tuesday night. Kevin Love dropped a workmanlike (for him) 25/12/3, and Ricky Rubio f*cked around and got his first career double-double with a 12/12/6 line.
Before diving into Wolves takeaways from the game, first thing’s first: the Heat are good. Real good. Bosh, Wade, and James are gelling like the trio everyone expected coming out of the gates in 2010/11. LeBron is the best player in the world. He turned 27 today.
- Turnovers: Adelman said prior to the game that if the Wolves failed to protect the ball, it would lead to a Heat dunk contest. His concern couldn’t have been more prophetic. Unforced errors and Heat ball-hawking led to 25 Wolves turnovers and what felt like a million transition buckets for Miami. Every Wolves player had at last one turnover. Love and Rubio were the chief offenders, with six and five, respectively, but their turnovers stung less than their teammates’, as aggressive play underlay the bulk of their mistakes, while the rest of the team played the kind of sloppy basketball that James, Wade, and company are only too happy to exploit. Adelman has lamented the Wolves’ sloppiness since the beginning of camp, and while the shortened preseason, the new system, and adjusting to new personnel all point to turnovers continuing to plague the Wolves for the foreseeable future, Adelman’s rotations are puzzling and he could ease the players’ burden by firming them up sooner rather than later.
- The point guard situation: Rubio-mania has overtaken Minneapolis; Ridnour is no longer trying to mask his consternation with his declining role. Luke played just six minutes in the first half, missing his only field goal attempt. He had a nice stretch early in the third in which he made a quick three and then got a steal that led to a transition opportunity. But he started pressing in the middle of the third, taking an ill-advised three off the dribble that missed very badly, leading the already antsy Target Center crowd to clamor loudly for Rubio, who’d had a hot first half with 8 points, 6 assists, and a +7 in 15 minutes. When Rubio finally reported to the scorer’s table with 4:00 in the third, Ridnour retaliated with two difficult rapid-fire three-point attempts before exiting at the dead ball. Ridnour did not return, and finished the night with 6 points on 2-6 shooting and a -11 in 17 minutes. Rubio played the rest of the way, looking extremely good en route to 12 assists (which could’ve easily been 18+ with some help) and a +9 in 31 minutes. The stats are telling–the Wolves’ offensive sets and overall energy were markedly better when Rubio was in the game. With Rubio’s play exceeding expectations and Ridnour’s ineffectiveness and attitude forcing Adelman’s hand, the Wolves’ point guard situation is coming to a head sooner than expected. Kahn should be shopping the aggravated vet aggressively, but with Barea and Lee battling injuries, trading Ridnour would leave the Wolves thin at the point and so might not happen anytime soon.
- Close but no cigar: In the three games thus far, the Wolves have been within three points with less than two minutes to go against two potential title contenders. They’ve failed to close each time. This year’s team clearly has more talent and a better culture than last year’s, but the Wolves’ inability to compete down the stretch is reminiscent of some of the ugly things we saw last year. Hopefully Adelman can instill some lessons about #winningtime where Rambis failed.
- The last shot: A third-string guard seeing his first significant minutes of the season should never be in a position to take a potential game-tying or winning shot against anybody, let alone the Heat. Yet that’s what happened tonight in the game’s closing seconds when Wayne Ellington flung an extremely difficult dribble-jumper from 22 feet that clanked off the iron. Part of the reason the Wolves struggle to win close games is their lack of a go-to player down the stretch. Michael Beasley has the talent to get difficult baskets time-after-time when opposing defenses have hunkered down in the fourth quarter, but can he do it for this team? Beasley played poorly tonight, scoring only 4 points on 2-6 shooting in 22 minutes before getting benched in the fourth quarter. Yet Beasley is the Wolves’ only player who can create a decent shot for himself almost every time he touches the ball, as he showed during stretches of last season. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to second-guess Adelman’s decision to leave Beasley on the bench with four seconds left in a dead-ball situation in which the Timberwolves had possession. The Wolves will start to win close games against playoff-caliber teams when/if Adelman is able to trust Beasley or someone else to take and make big shots down the stretch. Ideally Beasley would need to earn that trust, but given his de facto role as the team’s sole 1-on-1 creator, Adelman should give Beasley a longer leash to earn it as he goes, despite the inevitable lumps that’ll come along the way.
- The Wolves sorely missed J.J. Barea at both guard positions. Get well soon J.J.!
- Anthony Tolliver has so much heart. After getting slapped with a blocking foul on what appeared to be a LeBron charge late in the 4th, AT went hard to the cup and tried to CRAM on the entire Heat interior, drawing a foul. He’s proud and he worked his ass off on both ends.
- That said, AT needs to work on his free-throws. He made the first shot and missed the second on at least three trips during the second half.
- AR15 finally showed some signs and was a game high +18 in 25 minutes of action. He still has a long way to go before he’ll gain Adelman’s trust.
- Randolph looks so much better when his 12-15 face-up is falling like it was tonight. It prevents him from trying to do too much off the dribble, which is when he tends to get out of control.
- Derrick Williams looked better after a down game against Milwaukee on Tuesday. He mostly let the game come to him, and he hit two of three from downtown and had 10 points in 21 minutes.
- Wes Johnson apparently didn’t read our letter.
It all starts again on Sunday against Dallas. Until then.
Season Record: 0-3