The Wolves extended their losing streak to 3 games on Wednesday, dropping a crucial game against a divisional foe that might be joining the Wolves (and Mavericks, Jazz and Warriors) in the battle of the playoffs fringe. Despite a fantastic surprise in the minutes leading up to tip-off (more on that in a second) and a large 1st Half lead, the Wolves offense sputtered in the 2nd Half and a winnable game was lost. This game was relatively simple, with one great thing slightly more than offset by one really bad thing. Those two things:
Kevin Love unexpectedly returned to the starting lineup. And was immediately back to his All-Star form.
When I opened up Twitter on my phone at 6:30 last night, I thought I might have been tripping on the acid that Wolves coaches are dropping before setting the playing rotations. Why? This:
Shocker: Kevin Love's broken hand has been cleared, sounds like he will play tonight in a surprising development—
Jerry Zgoda (@JerryZgoda) November 22, 2012
What?! Sure enough, Love was introduced in the starting lineup and received a raucous welcome from the home crowd. Oh, and he played unbelievably well, too. In vintage Kevin Love form he had a 1st Half double double, scoring 22 and rebounding 11. The Wolves led by 14 at the half largely behind Love’s dominance of the Nuggets. He would finish the game with a whopping 34 & 14 and his early return should be considered a huge bit of good news over the Thanksgiving holiday. Unless your name is Derrick Williams and Love’s return removed you entirely from the playing rotation.
Moving on to the bad part:
Rick Adelman stubbornly refuses to acknowledge what has been obvious all season: Malcolm Lee should not see the floor.
I don’t want to beat this dead horse, but, well, it isn’t dead until Lee is out of the lineup like Derrick Williams now is. Lee started and played over 25 minutes of last night’s game. Alexey Shved, the better player who functionally replaces Ricky Rubio’s role, played only 21. Make no mistake, this rotation blunder very likely made last night’s game a loss instead of a win. Just like the Charlotte game. Why is this so?
In those 25 minutes, Lee scored 2 points on 1-8 shooting. He missed a pair of free throws. You might look at the box score and say, “Yeah, but Lee was a +1 and Shved was a -5. It isn’t so obvious that Shved should be taking those minutes.” Except that would be wrong. Almost all of Lee’s minutes came when Kevin Love was also on the floor, dominating the game for reasons that had nothing to do with Lee. Love was a +11 in his first stretch in which he had 16 points and 6 rebounds in 9 minutes and 28 seconds of action. Lee’s +/- happily accepted that boost that he didn’t do much to contribute to. If Kevin Love would’ve continued that pace, scoring 50 points and pulling down 30 rebounds, the guard rotation would not have mattered. But Love isn’t Wilt Chamberlain and he came back to reality in the 2nd Half.
The game was lost in the 3rd Quarter when Adelman continued to play the unproductive Lee next to the limited Luke Ridnour. Lee played the first 9:38 of the 2nd Half, his last minutes of the game and hopefully the season. In those minutes he took 5 shots and made 0. He took 2 free throws and missed them both. In that stretch of slightly under 10 minutes, the 14-point lead became a 1-point lead and the huge halftime advantage was forfeited. Look, this isn’t a one-game fluke. Lee scores 7.7 points per 36 minutes. Shved scores 16.0. Lee shoots 27.5 percent from the field and 10.0 percent from 3. Shved shoots 37.8 and 26.2 percent, respectively, in those categories. Lee’s 3.2 assists per 36 are doubled by Shved’s 6.4. Lee has a PER of 5.5. Shved’s is 16.3. Lee has WS/48 of .004. Shved has .111. If Lee is the better defender, it certainly isn’t by a degree that makes up for the lopsided advantage that Shved has on offense.
What made the guard rotation extra maddening last night was that when Shved finally entered the game in the 2nd Half, it was with fellow ball dominator, J.J. Barea. Adelman trotted out the two players that can’t do anything with the ball together, and then took them out and brought in the two that struggle to share the ball, each wanting to create the action rather than finish it. Barea made some nice plays last night, but enough bad ones to help lose the game once the Lee minutes made the game competitive.
A frustrating loss in a winnable game. Let’s hope the guard rotation gets straightened out. It’s easy to blame the injuries for these issues. It’s also disingenuous and ignores the Alexey Shved Elephant in the room. There’s so much front court talent now that Love is back that 36 minutes of Alexey Shved might very well be enough to win a lot of games. Last night, it seemed that way.
Season Record: 5-5