As I’m sure you already know, the Timberwolves beat the Jazz on Saturday. That game was played at Target Center. It was not close. The blowout allowed Coach Adelman to play his first round picks, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, for the final six minutes of the game. (Gorgui actually played a little bit in the first half, too.) Adelman was in a good mood after the game. When his presser closed with some jokes about a ridiculous lob pass Dieng threw from beyond the halfcourt line, it seemed as if Rick wanted to hang out for a while. Suffice it to say, it was a happier mood than the one that followed Wednesday’s loss to the Kings.
The Wolves and Jazz match up again on Tuesday. This one will be in Utah and marks the beginning of a four-game road trip that includes stops in Portland, Oakland/Golden State, and Chicago. As the Wolves are currently 2 games below .500 and 4 games out of the playoffs, they can’t afford a losing streak. Ideally they win at Utah and Chicago — where Luol Deng no longer plays and Derrick Rose is not in uniform — and steal one of the two difficult games on the West Coast. A 3-1 road trip would get the team back to .500 with some momentum after the first impressive win (whether it come at the Rose Garden or Oracle) in ages.
A few points about the recent play of the Wolves during the stretch of games I alluded to in my last post (everything since the 12/18/13 win over Portland at Target Center, which was about one month ago):
* The Wolves are 6-8, which is good for 12th in the Western Conference. Only the Nuggets, Pelicans and Lakers have worse winning percentages since 12/19/13.
* Their average point differential is +6.4, which is the 6th best in the NBA. They really do blow out their wins and lose the close ones. Something’s gotta give, at some point.
* They are in the top ten of both offense and defense. (7th and 9th, respectively.) Again, their overall performance measured by point differential is radically different from their (in)ability to pick up wins.
* Both Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic are averaging 20 & 10. Specifically, Love is averaging 25.0 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists. Pek is averaging 21.4 and 10.1. He’s hitting 53.9 percent of his field goals.
* Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved are shooting poorly from the field… but not from three-point range. Ricky is making 33.0 percent of field goals, but 37.5 percent of threes. Shved is making 35.8 percent of field goals, but an impressive 41.2 percent from downtown. Ricky shoots threes very infrequently, which makes his rate less impressive than Shved’s. (1.4 and 5.6 three-point attempts per 36 minutes, respectively.)
* Adelman continues to use his starting five lineup a ton and it continues to perform at a high level. The starters have played 258 minutes in this time frame. The next highest minute total for a five-man lineup is 28. The starters’ net rating (average plus/minus per 100 possessions) is +8.9.
* It seems to me that the following two things are true: Ronny Turiaf has had a positive influence on the chemistry of the second unit and Alexey Shved is playing with a lot more confidence, of late. Well, in the past month, the Wolves most successful two-man combination is Turiaf-Shved. (For pairings used at least 50 minutes.) When those two share the floor, the Wolves are outscoring opponents by 17.3 points per 100 possessions.
* One of the obvious reasons that the Wolves lose is poor shooting. In losses during the past month, they’ve shot just 29.1 percent from three-point range. In wins the three-point percentage is 44.7 percent. Essentially, the Wolves sometimes shoot the ball better than any team in the league, and combined with their no-fouling defense and bruising interior play, they win by tons of points. And sometimes they shoot like the worst team in the league and their late-game offense is compromised accordingly. They hang around with offensive rebounds and first-through-third quarter foul draws, but ultimately lose. Parsing Adelman’s comments before and after recent games, there is no question that he wants his players to move the ball and aggressively hunt for shots. I don’t think that’s an oxymoron. I think he wants crisp ball movement and the open shot to be taken. In particular, he wants to see Kevin Martin be more aggressive. If the Wolves want to see more wins over decent teams, they’ll need to do something about their field goal shooting.
Anyway, those are some notes about the past month. Here’s hoping the performance gap between wins and losses narrows and we see some close wins over good teams.