That was a bad game. The final score was Houston 107, Minnesota 89.
It had some nice moments, but more bad ones that lasted much longer than the good. Rick Adelman wasn’t there tonight, due to personal reasons. Terry Porter took his place as chief decision maker on the sidelines.
In the opening minutes, the Wolves couldn’t defend. They started Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger at the wing spots. Corey couldn’t defend James Harden without fouling. Chase couldn’t rotate quickly enough to contest Rockets three-point shots. This theme continued all night as Brewer and Budinger posted defensive ratings for the game of 124.9 and 118.7, respectively.
Kevin Love scored a ton of points in the first quarter to sort of keep it from an early blowout, before Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Dante Cunningham came in and demonstrated how to play defense. (These two had d-ratings by night’s end of 90.4 and 89.5, respectively.) When Alexey Shved carried the second quarter offense with a pair of threes and a huge, completely surprising dunk in traffic, the deficit was cut to 2, multiple times. It felt like, maybe, it could be a competitive game.
But a combination of factors prevented that from happening. The Rockets closed the half strong, with a Harden trey at the horn putting them up 9 at the break. Dwight Howard, defended mostly by Ronny Turiaf and a little bit by Gorgui Dieng, was predictably tough to stop. The Wolves often doubled down and were unable to keep up with the Rockets crisp rotation passes that led to open jumpers. J.J. Barea played one of his worst ever games in a Timberwolves uniform, shooting 1 for 9 from the field with consistently awful decision making. Alexey Shved’s second half was at least as bad as his first half was good, and the entire team effort came apart at the seams. In the fourth quarter, the starters came back in with no legs. Or life. They allowed dunks in transition and, well, you see the final score.
The one bright spot, in my mind, was the defense of Mbah a Moute. (Also, he scored 10 points on 5-6 shooting, but I’m not going to pretend that is sustainable.) I do enjoy watching LRMAM defend good players. He struggled some against Durant, but everyone these days struggles against Durant. Tonight against Harden, he knew when he could play with his hands and when he couldn’t. Harden ended with just 19 points on 4-14 shooting, and this was after a hot start against Brewer. If the Wolves were on a better track — better shooting and backup guard play, mostly — I think they’d really have a place for LRMAM as a stopper specialist. He is pretty masterful at that one area. (I could spend another paragraph spewing praise about Dante Cunningham’s defensive effort – what with the deep squat front technique against the massive Dwight Howard, or the ease with which he switches onto point guards and suckers them into thinking they can beat a forward off the dribble – but I can’t get too positive here after a blowout loss at home.)
This team is in bad shape. They’re 24-28 with Denver – a similarly positioned team – coming to town on Wednesday. The Timberwolves are not going to make the playoffs, and fans’ expectations and desires will be diverted away from pure winning and more into developing the rookies and looking ahead to the draft. I don’t know why Rick Adelman was absent tonight, and Terry Porter said he will be back on Wednesday, but it would not be surprising if he decides to call it a career. He must know that the elusive championship he so nearly captured in Portland and Sacramento will not be found here in the Twin Cities.
So there you have it. One more game before a much needed All-Star break.
Season Record: 24-28