1. The Comeback
The Wolves closed out the final 6 minutes 15 seconds of last night’s game on a 24-9 run. Unfortunately this 15-point swing was 2 shy of what was needed to catch the Blazers on a night they dominated 3.5 quarters of action. In that final stretch, Ricky Rubio dazzled the crowd with 7 assists (14 for the game) and his patented pesky defense that frustrated Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews, who had both played great up to that point. Dante Cunningham finished most of those assists, finishing the game with a career-high 23 points. 17 of those came in the 4th Quarter. Unfortunately, Dante’s game-tying attempt at the buzzer fell short and the Wolves lost another close one.
2. Everything Before The Comeback
Not so good. Alexey Shved was frustrated with Portland’s physical defense not being whistled for more fouls. He missed a lot of shots. Derrick Williams might as well have stayed home. He scored 1 point in 19 minutes of action and sat during the late-game comeback. I think we’ve reached the point (perhaps some of you reached it months ago) where Derrick’s expectations drop. If I were his coach, this would be the time I stop yelling at him. That isn’t a good thing. Andrei Kirilenko hurt his leg and will probably be out for a week or so. Pek was okay, but failed to convert — either because his shot was blocked, or he just botched the layup — more than usual, by his standards. The Wolves couldn’t make shots; a recurring theme.
3. Matchup Problems
LaMarcus Aldridge continues to be a pain. The Wolves have never really had anybody who can guard him. Kevin Love, and any of his replacements at the 4, are too short. Pek is too slow. LMA is so big and such a great shooter that he ends up attracting all sorts of help defense, leaving snipers like Wes Matthews open for just enough time to swish a corner trey. Portland has a nice foundation with those guys. They just need more depth and maybe another year of Lillard developing as an all-around force.
4. Chris Johnson must not be very good in practice.
Chris Johnson received another DNP-CD last night. Statistically, Chris Johnson is the Timberwolves’ best player. In limited sample size (7 games; 15 minutes per) his win shares per 48 are more than double the next-best Wolf. I’m gonna have to just trust that Rick knows what he’s doing on this one. Perhaps there are some gaping holes that have led to Johnson’s past D-League demotions and current pine riding. But still — wouldn’t we like to see if he’s an above-average center? The Pek-to-Stiemer dropoff has been pronounced this year. Better frontcourt depth is always a good thing.
5. Ricky’s Jumper
I don’t know what the biggest variable is that could give the Wolves an upward swing in the standings. But Ricky’s jumper must be near the top of the list. When he hits that dribble 15-footer, he’s a different player. Last night, after he made a couple of those (and many free throws) he began penetrating the lane with confidence, faking out defenders and finishing at the rim. A 15-point, 14-assist performance when he also played his ass off on defense is, I think, genuine reason for optimism that Ricky is getting his groove back. Without the relentless effort on defense that Ricky (and J.J. and Dante) put forth, the comeback never happens and the Wolves lose by 20 in a snoozer. He’ll have a tougher test on Wednesday when Tony Parker is in town.
Season Record: 18-27