Okay, so there’s a bunch of stuff to review. Let’s cover it by way of an INBOX to flesh out some of the ideas and knowns and unknowns.
First, let’s briefly cover last night’s game. I’ll pass the torch to you for first reactions.
Last night’s game at Atlanta
Andy G: First reaction would be that last night’s game is a microcosm of the Kevin Love Era of Timberwolves basketball. Love put up Chamberlainian NUMB#RS in a losing effort to a “decent” team. No exaggeration here: Love dropped 43 and 19. In a loss. To the Hawks.
I’ve seen this movie before. It’s not a good movie.
So yeah, #fml.
The Wolves aren’t very good defensively. (Duh.) Yeah, they’re smart about not fouling too much and their efficiency stats are pretty decent. (They remain 11th ranked in the league.) I tried to think of a way to capture what I feel like is the truth (the Wolves stink on defense, despite the overall efficiency metric that says otherwise). The best I could come up with is to filter by 4th Quarter defense in losses. The Wolves have too many blowout wins (and almost no close wins) to make their fourth quarter performance a reliable measure of anything. But they have 24 losses in 47 games, and a great deal of those were games that the Wolves *could’ve* (should’ve?) won.
By that measure (fourth quarter defense in losses) the Wolves rank 23rd in the NBA with a defensive rating of 114.5. (In those 24 games, their fourth quarter offensive rating is 100.0.)
Last night, the Wolves scored a ton in the fourth quarter. 38 points. That should’ve been enough to come back and win, but they allowed the Hawks — THE HAWKS! — to score 34 in the same period.
I don’t have it in me to dig into more detail than that. The roster just isn’t built very well, right now. There are too many one-way players. I’m not even sure there’s a single “two-way” player on the team. That makes it hard to win against good teams, or build anything resembling a sustainable formula for success.
So, there’s more to it than that – what of the Adelman-Rubio-Barea dynamic that’s been overshadowing backcourt rotations lately?
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Nikola Pekovic’s emergence was key to last night’s victory and is critical to the Timberwolves’ long-term prospects (Artwork brought to you by Holly G)
Andy G: I closed yesterday’s post with: “If last night’s loss was an eye opener for the defense, perhaps a renewed focus can keep the Celtics under 90 points tonight and give the fans an enjoyable win to watch.”
Well, the Wolves held Boston to just 88 points, won by 18, and gave the fans a win that was mostly enjoyable to watch. Despite some first-half struggles from the Kevins, the Wolves used a combination of transition offense, J.J. Barea Hero Ball, and Nikola Pekovic glass eating to take a five-point lead after two quarters. In the second half, Kevin Martin calibrated his three-point range (he was short on just about everything in the first) and Kevin Love showed off hook shots while also grinding out foul-draws to the tune of a workmanlike 23 points and 12 rebounds. The 7 turnovers on his line are evidence of some of his struggles in this game. Robbie Hummel advanced the “positive correlation guy” narrative drum that I’m beating, with 8 points in 20 minutes of (+14) basketball. On defense, Adelman said that they wanted to make Boston a jumpshooting team. They pretty much succeeded at this. Early on, those jumpers went in. Later on, they didn’t. The lead grew and the Wolves cruised to a comfortable win. This team seems like a good front runner.
Let me get back to Pekovic for a moment because I think his performance gets to a bigger-picture issue with this team. With Ricky Rubio being such a non scorer (3 points combined in the two games this weekend) and nobody on the team possessing elite shot creating in the traditional mold of a LeBron/Melo/Wade/Kobe nature, I think one of the keys on nights like last night is to pound the offensive glass. There will be games like this one (the Cleveland loss was a good example) where the offense sputters and they’ll need an alternate route to points. Pek had 8 offensive boards last night and scored 20 points on 8-9 shooting. Most of these were putbacks.
As the Wolves continue to refine their offense — currently the league’s 9th best — the challenge will be to maximize all of the immense talents of Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Love and Pek. In the early part of this season, Pek seemed almost like an odd man out, often losing shot opportunities to aggressive bucket hunters Love and Martin. One way he can unquestionably add value is to do what he did last night and crash the boards. After his huge game last night, his offensive rebounding percentage is up to 11.1 percent. Last season’s was 13.1 percent. It’d be nice to see him focus on getting back to this one skill that will be hugely important, particularly if Rick staggers his bench rotations like he did over the weekend, pairing Pekovic with Barea. J.J. is certain to create “Kobe Assist” opportunities with his kamikaze drives that usually draw an extra defender and often times clank off the rim.
All in all, a solid win over a bad team. Adelman emphasized after the game that good teams MUST win at home. He said that you then try to split on the road. Taken literally, he’s describing a path to winning three fourths of regular season games. While that’s a bit optimistic for this team (it’d be 61 or 62 wins, which even the most optimistic would be impressed by) it’s clear that Rick expects to win this season.
What else is happening?
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The Timberwolves travel to Cleveland tonight to face Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers. Artwork by Holly Grimsrud (hollygrimsrudart.com)
Andy G: Last night, the Timberwolves beat the Knicks and improved their record to 3-0. This marks only the second time in 25 seasons of franchise existence that the team won its first three games. Setting aside what that statistic says about the past, it is a small, early accomplishment worth feeling good about on the season’s first Monday morning. An undefeated start is especially impressive considering that the Wolves faced Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony in consecutive matchups.
The Wolves won the game at the foul line, where they made 29 out of a whopping 38 attempts. (The Knicks only shot 13.) After a blowout first quarter of steals and pass-ahead assists to Brewer and Love, it was all about survival. Carmelo eventually started making shots and the Knicks cut the deficit to 2 with 4:48 to go. But Kevin Martin converted a technical foul free throw, followed it up with a three-pointer (his fifth of the night; he scored a wildly-efficient 30 points on 12 shots) and the game never got close again.
Patrick J, what’s up with the crazy free throw disparity?
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We interrupt our ordinary coverage of
meaningless late-season Wolves games with the earthshaking news out of Los Angeles:
Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon and may never play another NBA game.
Just typing that sentence feels outlandish.
Kobe drove left on Harrison Barnes and went down in a heap. On replay the foot plant looked innocuous. Social media commenced a hunt for blame. Mike D’Antoni and the NBA schedule were the chief suspects. Kobe had some liability of his own.
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“Like a Love Song” by Holly Grimsrud
Mixed Media on Paper, 24″ x 32″
It wasn’t easy. Despite building a 13-point lead late in the 3rd Quarter of Tuesday night’s game at Sacramento the Wolves found themselves in a dogfight in the closing minutes. With a minute to go, and holding just a 2-point lead, Andrei Kirilenko cracked the code of the annoying Kings zone defense, filling a seam, catching a pass and quickly flipping it over to Nikola Pekovic for an open layup. On the other end of the floor, AK47 swatted a crucial shot of DeMarcus Cousins. When he secured the loose-ball rebound himself, the game was in hand, with the five-game losing streak snapped. The Wolves controlled most of this game, and deserved the win. Since we’ve got another one tomorrow night (@ LA Clippers, 9:30 CST) I’m keeping it short, so we’re heading into the bullet format:
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