In another hard-fought defeat, the Wolves were actually close to a full-fledged disaster on their hands at Target Center, Tuesday Night. In front of a capacity crowd and after Coach Adelman stubbornly started the same lineup as in recent games, the game quickly fell out of control. MVP Derrick Rose made it rain from outside (14 first-quarter points), and the offense could hardly have been more stagnant coming out of the gates. The score was 51-29 in Chicago’s favor when Kevin Love and Luke Ridnour checked in for Derrick Williams and J.J. Barea. The following were then on the floor together:
1 – Ricky Rubio
2 – Luke Ridnour
3 – Anthony Tolliver
4 – Kevin Love
5 – Anthony Randolph
Love scored 11 points in the next 2:23, with three treys coming off of nifty Rubio assists. That pairing is dynamite on pick-and-pop, and penetrate-and-kick sets. Love was done challenging the incredible interior of Chicago (there is no better defensive front line than Chicago’s, particularly when Gibson and Noah are on the floor) and instead was floating in the right spots where Ricky could fire those one-handed rockets right on the numbers. But things weren’t done after Love’s triple-three sequence. Next would be a Rubio-to-Randolph alley-oop that perfectly captures everything about why Ricky is the buzz of NBA talk everywhere. The crowd was going crazy, the refs were all of a sudden exchanging heimlich maneuvers as they choked on their whistles for about five should-have-been Wolves fouls, and Randolph finished another Rubio dime to cut the once-24-point Bull lead down to 6, at the half. ORDER WAS RESTORED. A lineup was established. That five was (+16) over a 4:50 closing stretch.
Unfortunately for Minnesota on this night, reality would bite in the form of its opponent’s excellence. Da Bulls are possibly the best team in the world, depending on the health of Dwyane Wade and the chemistry between Westbrook, Harden and Durant. Chicago plays a brand of defense–both its starting five and second unit–that is probably unmatched across the league, perhaps save the offensively-challenged Bucks of Milwaukee. In tonight’s game the Wolves not only faced this defensive monster, but also white-hot shooting nights from Derrick Rose (12-22, 31 points, 11 assists) and Luol Deng (21 points, 11 rebounds) and just to remove any doubt as to who would leave Target Center victorious, Ronnie Brewer hit a pair of clutch jumpers, both coming at times when the Wolves desperately needed a stop. In short, the Wolves took Chicago’s best shot tonight and came up empty. Whether a proper starting five would change tonight’s result is up in the air. My guess is that there would have been too much Rose-and-Deng for the young T-Pups to prevail in this one.
Some bullet points:
- Derrick Rose is more than worth the price of admission. In my opinion, Rose represents the best of everything about NBA basketball. He has world-class athleticism and strength and yet is visibly improved–certainly due to his maniacal work ethic–season after season. His MVP award last year was controversial amongst many experts, particularly those who analyzed it by statistics. Certainly, the award stemmed from his team’s success which is often true of all NBA accolades. But make no mistake about it: Rose is the Peyton Manning of that offense. Every decision and meaningful action starts with him at the top. He torched the Wolves from downtown in the early going, and then deferred while his teammates took shots. When the Wolves’ hot shooting and improved defense made the game close, he stepped on the accelerator and every Wolf’s throat with dagger jumpers and crazy-acrobatic moves in the paint. There is no comparison around the league for a lead guard who can carry a team to victories.
- Another Derrick–this time Williams–struggled in this game. He shot 1 for 7 and sort of got away from the catch-and-shoot basketball that has, at times, made him a nice sidekick for fellow-rookie Rubio. There is no getting around that he is a bit of a “tweener.” My advice to D-Thrill would be to focus on the Rubioop highlights, and then stick mostly to jumpers where he has advanced skills. His coach preaches focusing on strengths and simplifying where appropriate. Derrick should follow those principles. Oh, and practice free throws. He’s now shooting about 59 percent at the stripe–barely above his college 3PT%.
- Anthony Randolph is nothing if not an enigma, but he seems to anticipate Rubio’s… well, anticipation. More than any other Wolf–and this may be in large part due to his length and ability to catch different passes–AR15′s game is bolstered by Rubio passes. His (+6) tonight is consistent with his season-long on/off numbers that show his minutes to be the best for the team. I worry about his head sometimes–he can quickly spiral into crazy play–but his aggressive style and instincts with Ricky are certainly working for the team in the season’s early going.
- Up next is New Orleans, on Friday Night, on the road. Eric Gordon has been out with injury, but the Hornets just beat the quality Nuggets without him. They aren’t to be taken lightly. PLEASE RICK ADELMAN DON’T PLAY WES JOHNSON OR DARKO MILICIC. That’s all.
Season Record: 3-7