Let’s get the qualifiers out of the way. Coming into yesterday’s matchup with the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, the Timberwolves had a road record of 5-8. At home, the Knicks were 11-2. Though both teams had the previous day off and were presumably rested, the Wolves were without their top dog, Kevin Love. K-Love was still feeling effects from the eye gouge injury he sustained late in the Thunder game and stayed home from the trip. Taking on the second-best team in the East without the team’s best scorer and rebounder was a tall order and victory was unlikely. But when the final buzzer sounded and the Knicks celebrated what should have been a routine home win against an undermanned squad, Wolves fans had a bitter taste in their mouths. Here’s a rundown that explains why.
The Wolves take on
Rasheed Wallace and the Knicks Sunday afternoon at MSG
Coming off a signature win over the West-leading OKC Thunder, the Wolves take on the East-leading Knicks Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. The 13-11 Wolves will be without Kevin Love, who played one of his best one or two games of the season on Thursday, with 28, 11, and, perhaps most indicative of the way the Wolves played against OKC, a season-high 7 assists; the Wolves moved the ball better against the Thunder than in any game this season, and with only a minimal contribution from point guard extraordinaire Ricky Rubio, who’s still on a limited-minutes program as he completes his comeback from a season-ending knee injury.
Love’s minutes will be divided between much-maligned Derrick Williams and Dante Cunningham. Just when you think Derrick Williams won’t get any more chances, someone gets hurt, and Derrick Williams gets another chance. So far, he’s never done anything with any of them. Cunningham has exceeded expectations this season, and should give the Wolves the kind of steady but unspectacular performance Wolves fans have become accustomed to. The Wolves offense tends to flow better when Love isn’t on the floor, but there’s still no replacing his 20 & 13.
The Knicks are more than a worthy opponent, Love or no Love. A few things to watch for:
A difficult but essential responsibility of any basketball coach is to get his or her players to “buy in.”
By whatever psychological tactics necessary (with some famous coaches showing little-to-no bounds in their exploration), a coach needs to teach and convince players to make floor decisions that prioritize team ahead of individual.
Basketball fans have a better opportunity to psychoanalyze players than their counterparts in football do. The players are exposed without helmets or masks to cover their reactions to plays of the game. Modern HD television rarely fails to capture a Kobe Bryant sneer or Ricky Rubio smile. Also, the game has fewer players, and most offensive plays are trimmed down to 1 or 2 man action. Most basketball plays boil down to a player’s distinct choice to either shoot, dribble or pass; as fans, we watch for trends and form opinions about what they were thinking on a given play.
Last year’s Timberwolves were the first in years to play consistently competitive basketball. Before Ricky Rubio went down with a knee injury the Wolves had a winning record that included impressive victories over the defending-champion Mavericks and perennial contender Spurs. But the games that probably meant the most to fans, Miami, LA, Boston, and yes, Oklahoma City… they came up short. Entering this season the Wolves had not beaten the Celtics since they traded Kevin Garnett to them in 2007. They haven’t beaten the Lakers for years. They haven’t beaten Miami since LeBron and Bosh took their talents to South Beach. And they have not beaten the Thunder since the Thunder became good. Entering last night’s contest the Wolves had a 12-game losing streak to their rivals to the South. The last time they beat OKC, the Thunder had a terrible 5-31 record and Westbrook-Durant was tantalizing potential with very little yet realized. Along their rapid road to improvement, the Thunder have not only bullied the Timberwolves but reached a conference finals in 2011 and an NBA Finals last year. They have the best record in basketball and were riding a [regular] 12-game winning streak as they tipped off on TNT Primetime at Target Center. By winning this game–in commanding fashion, never trailing, nonetheless–the Timberwolves can mark off a yet-to-be accomplished task en route to becoming “for real.” Having soundly beaten the best of the best, on the biggest [regular season] stage, they’ll carry a healthy amount of swagger that seasoned Rick Adelman will undoubtedly manipulate to be an advantage rather than a problem. For now, with two days off until a fun Christmas Eve Eve matchup with the Knickerbockers, let’s just enjoy a great win.
A few keys:
When I saw that the Wolves were a 8.5-point dogs, my naive optimism dwindled pretty significantly. Vegas usually knows what’s up. In this case, Ricky Rubio was sitting out. The Wolves were on the tail end of a road back-to-back. Miami was rested. Miami has LeBron James. The Heat are the world champs. After dropping a winnable one last night, this would be a challenge. How’d it play out? Check it out below the fold.
Former Wolves guard Mike Miller and those other guys host the Wolves tonight in Miami
The Wolves take their talents to Miami tonight to play the incumbent Finals champions, after losing a winnable game against the Magic Monday night in Orlando. Well, maybe not all their talents: Ricky Rubio is not expected to play in tonight’s game, as part of a program that will have him avoiding back-to-backs until he’s cleared by team medical staff. Rubio, who struggled last night, will never say never, however, suggesting there’s a chance that he will play tonight if his knee isn’t too sore.
The Wolves could certainly use Rubio, even with Ricky coming off a subpar performance against the Magic where the rust clearly showed. Rubio ended the night with 0 points, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers in 16 minutes of action last night after having a nice Ricky-like 8/9/4/3 line in Saturday’s win over Dallas.
Against the Heat, the Wolves need Rubio far more than they did against Dallas or Orlando, and not just because the Heat are (by far) the best of the three teams. Why? Continue reading
Patrick J: How hard do you think AdelKahn is shopping Derrick Williams and change right now for a shooting guard? And, would they do a Beal trade? Would the Wiz? This probably means nothing, but I saw that WaPo picked up a story from somewhere (maybe even the Strib) on D-Thrill, suggesting they think there’s some demand from their readers to know more about this guy whom they’re potentially interested in. He’d probably be a breath of fresh air out there, as they could move Jordan Crawford to starting SG (gag, I know, but he’s better than Beal right now), and start Williams next to Okafor instead of Chris Singleton (!) or Martell Webster (!!).
Who are the other targets?