For one quarter of last night’s game, things were made impossibly easy for the Timberwolves. I don’t know if the
Pelicans Hornets players were sweating out last night’s Hurricanes or what, but they came out flat as a pancake and the Wolves took full advantage. Behind a steady supply of steals, Pekovic power moves, and even a flashy dime from Ricky to Stiemer, Minnesota led by 15 points after the opening quarter.
And that’s about when the fun stopped. Well, not quite, but close. Derrick Williams, who checked in near the end of the first, opened the second quarter with three straight moves that looked much more like Carmelo Anthony than the inconsistent “caged lion” that we’ve come to question as a building block for the franchise. Williams, playing out of that square-up, jab-step stance that the league’s premier 4’s attack from, began the second quarter with the following: 1) layup; 2) layup; and 3) layup and the foul. I was excited.
THAT is when the fun stopped.
In the ensuing stretch of 4 minutes 22 seconds, neither team scored much. Just 3 points each. Then the Wolves’ commanding 17-point began to crumble. Eric Gordon, whose importance to the Hornets has thus far been incredibly apparent in the win/loss column (Since Gordon was traded to New Orleans, they are 11-4 when he plays and 21-66 when he doesn’t), started attacking the hoop and, as we like to say, body hunting. He’s a bowling ball of a shooting guard and a serious matchup problem for the Timberwolves as presently constructed. Behind Gordon’s renewed assertiveness on offense the Hornets slashed the big Timberwolves lead down to just 6 points at the half.
Things just kept spiraling downward from there. New Orleans completely dominated the third quarter (30 to 15) and controlled the game throughout. Greivis Vasquez played a beautiful game, finding open shooters and, sometimes, dunkers, en route to 13 assists. Jason Smith, a bruiser of a backup big man, made 7 of his 8 field goal attempts, many of them jumpers from the elbow. The Wolves had a terrible time getting stops when they were needed most.
On the other end, the offense completely stalled. Dante Cunningham played more minutes than he is used to (39) and played one of his weaker games in recent memory. Pekovic, who looked poised to score a career high in the first quarter, cooled off and finished with 18 points. (He had 10 in the first.) And Derrick Williams, who had that 7-point burst described above, finished the game with just 9 points.
But more than anything the team continues to struggle from three-point range. Last night they shot 4 for 18; a 22% clip that is even below their league-worst 29.8% average. Not only does the clanking leave points directly off the board but it undoubtedly ends up clogging the paint and preventing other easy baskets. NBA pick-and-roll is all about spacing and defenses have less to fear in helping off of shooters against the Wolves than any other team. Without viable three-point shooting threats in the corners–or anywhere around the perimeter–the Shved and Rubio action becomes severely compromised. It is not a coincidence that the best, most fun to watch action of this season has coincided with flurries of three-point shots. Think Oklahoma City and Atlanta games. When shots don’t fall–and we’ve seen enough sample size now to view this as a roster issue, not a cold streak issue–the pick and rolls and back-door cuts become less available.
The best part of last night–the silver lining, I guess–is that all of the Wolves competitors for the 8 seed also lost. Portland, LA, Utah and Houston fell, so the Wolves didn’t fall in the standings any. But losing to the last-place team in the conference–even one that now has Eric Gordon–is never a good thing. Tomorrow night at San Antonio will be a tougher test and if the Wolves want to go .500 on the 4-game road trip, they’ll have to pass it with a win.
Be sure to check out Thursday’s Wolves Live Weekly show at the team site. Thanks again to Mark Remme and John Focke for the invitation to appear as a guest. I was pretty nervous and John made it go a lot easier than I expected.
Season Record: 16-17*
* If you want to feel better about this season, recall that last year’s Boston Celtics, who advanced to Game 7 of the conference finals, were 16-17 through 33 games. (I’m trying.)
7 responses to “A Quarter of the Fun (PELICANS 104, Wolves 92)”
Andy, Any thoughts on the college basketball environment at Assembly Hall, Indiana University? Gophers are currently down 54 to 37 there. You were there when Eric Gordon took down the Gophers. Patrick commented on Gordon this past week. No tougher environment for visitors. Hoosiers have the best fight song in college hoops. Besides great basketball, IU has the best college opera. This is hill-billy country with great interest in hoops and the arts. A top business school, as well. Campus looks like St. Olaf or Carleton. Beautiful country. When it comes to passion for basketball, Indiana tops Minnesota, by far. Lots of DI programs in that state.
Had Mbakwe blocked Zeller out on that free throw, the Gophers may have pulled off a crazy upset. IU is a fun place to see a game.
I feel like the Wolves front office is just waiting … If they are waiting for Derrick Williams to show himself, I hope they know something I don’t know. I hope they do something to improve the team before February. Ideally it would come in the form of someone who can help the team beyond this year.
You guys really think they could/should pull off a trade for Dirk?
Your comment highlights the difficulties in making a helpful move right now. What is Derrick Williams’ value? Who out there is both good enough to justify dealing last year’s #2 Pick and yet also attainable in a pre-deadline trade?
J.J. Redick is probably the best player that seems like a lock to be traded. (Pau Gasol maybe, I guess.) If the Wolves offered Derrick Williams and change, would Orlando be able to say no to that? Is it worth it for the Wolves to rent Redick for half a season when Budinger comes back in March anyway? I don’t know, but if they lose too many this month they’ll be fighting a major uphill battle to make the playoffs. Particularly when you factor in Adelman’s personal situation and extended absence from the team, there appears to be a slippery slope right now to becoming a clear non-playoff team. Something aggressive like moving Williams (or Love!) might be the only way to prevent that, and I don’t know enough about the inner workings of the Wolves brass to have an idea what to expect.
Could they pull off a trade for Dirk? Yes, if they are willing to part with Kevin Love. I have little doubt that something like Love/Luke/Roy for Dirk/Carter would be happily accepted by Dallas. (http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=cdr7csg) The Wolves would be going all in on this season and next, while keeping Rubio, Shved, and Pek for the long term (assuming they keep Pekovic this summer when he hits restricted free agency.)
Should they? Only if things are really bad with Love and expect him to bolt in 2015 when he has his player option. If things are worse (hell, if they are as bad) than they seem, then getting 1.5 seasons of Dirk–even the old version, I think–is better than getting 2 seasons of disgruntled Kevin Love after this wasted one ends.
I disagree on the Love trade or at least on its value to the team beyond this year. I’m a Dirk fan, but Love is so much younger than he is. Unless I knew that Love was going to be hurt again next year, I’d keep Love. A healthy Love is better than Dirk for the next two years. Further, if both would leave after 2 years (or sooner), at least there is a chance could bring back something in a trade for Love in his third year. Dirk is so old now, that the team would get much less in return if they traded him in two years (or it one year).
The only advantage with Dirk would be this year. I might consider that trade if Rubio was firing on all cylinders, and they traded Williams for Reddick. They would have Chase and JJ hitting threes, plus Dirk, plus Pek and AK. A very good team, but only for this year.
Start Williams, Kirilenko, Pekovic, Ridnour and Rubio. Williams needs 30 minutes per game. For energy off the bench, come with Barea, Shved, and Cunningham. For hard fouls and shot blocking, bring in Stiemama. Without Love and Budinger, we don’t make the playoffs. Their perimeter scoring is greatly missed. It’s more about entertainment now and playoffs next season. Please, no trades until the offseason.
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