Enjoy Mr. Love’s latest commercial!
Through 41 games the Wolves season can be described as many things, a roller coaster ride being one of them. It’s been an up-and-down season — win 1, lose 2, win 2, lose 3 (and so forth) — and expectations haven’t necessarily been met; at least in the eyes of most onlookers.
Nevertheless, the team is still in position to make a second half run and, with my fingers crossed, ultimately end a 9-year playoff drought. With a record of 20-21 on the season, the Wolves currently trail the Dallas Mavericks by 3 1/2 games for the last playoff spot in the West.
Seeing as this is the official midway point of the season, I wanted to compile highlights from all 41 games and give a brief little blurb for readers that either (1) have been stuck in a coma all season (2) drank themselves into a coma during a particular game or (3) just want to review what has occurred up to this point. Like as in, how the hell did we get to 20-21? Anyways, the goal of this post is to look back and see what has happened thus far.
(Note: Box scores are in parenthesis and all quotes are sourced from the Associated Press)
Kevin Love scored 31 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. He also hit the game-tying 3-pointer with 10.2 seconds left to force overtime, which sent the Target Center into a rowdy oblivion. After the game Love said,
“I personally knew we’d win the whole time. I told the guys with two or three minutes left, just keep playing through it. It’s going to be a learning experience for us, but we’re going to win this game. They all agreed.”
OKC didn’t have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant was limited to 13 points on 4-for-11 shooting (easily his worst game of the season). Ronny Turiaf suffered a radial head fracture in his right elbow during the game and went on to miss the next 31 contests. After the game Ricky Rubio said,
“We know we can score but when we play defense, we’re a different team.”
K-Love had a monster game — 34 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists. Kevin Martin also gave Wolves fans a performance to get all sorts of jacked up about (30 points on 12 shots — YES TWELVE!).
With a little over three minutes left, Love hit a crazy off-balance bank shot from the left wing to put the Wolves up eight. Mike Woodson called timeout, blankly stared into the MSG crowd, and Love got a sideline dap from Spike Lee.
How do you like them apples, Spike!?
C.J. Miles scored 19 points in 19 minutes off the bench (8-for-13) and Pekovic struggled mightily (3-for-12), but the Wolves still had a chance to win at the end. Kevin Love launched a contested 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left that bounced off the back rim and sent the Wolves to their first loss of the season. After the game Kevin Martin said,
“Heck yeah, we’ll take that shot every time. The best power forward in the league with a great look to win the game.”
I nodded my head in agreement.
Klay Thompson came for blood in this one – he scored 19 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter and led the Warriors to victory. Kevin Love had 25 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 assists for the Wolves, while Kevin Martin chipped in 23 points. But it simply was not enough.
“We’re a better team than that defensively,” Love said. “There were a lot of times where, I was guilty of it too, but I was throwing my hands up and was like, `Where is the weak side help.”
Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis combined for 44 points (16-for-35), 10 assists, and 7 rebounds, but the Wolves were able to hold Dirk to a meager 14 points. The Kevins scored 32 points apiece (for you math folks, that’s 64 total points).
Love was 2 assists away from a triple-double (32 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists) and put the game on ice in the final minutes.
“That’s why he gets paid the big bucks,” coach Rick Adelman said.
Wolves had the coolest 1st quarter ever. Like, EVER EVER. They scored 47 points.
“Forty-seven points in one quarter … it’s outrageous,” Gasol said.
Ricky Rubio diced up the Lakers to the tune of 12 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds. The Kevins (Love and Martin, DUH!) were dominant again. They combined for 52 points. Most importantly, the Wolves ended their 22-game losing streak to the Lakers. Sighs of relief were heard amongst the Twin Cities.
The early season momentum was halted a bit in this one. Love, Pekovic, and Martin destroyed it (totaling 76 points, 30 rebounds, and 11 assists) but Love missed a point blank tip-in in the final seconds.
“My natural instinct was to try to rush it and get it up there, but it sat on the rim and came right off. I would say 99 times out of a hundred times that goes in,” Love said. “I could have dunked it, but I thought I just had to touch it real quick because time was running out.”
We avenged our previous loss to Cleveland in this one. Brewer balled out (27 points) and Love was Love (33 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists), though the biggest key in the blowout was Ricky Rubio. He went head-to-head with Kyrie Irving and finished with 16 points, 16 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals. You didn’t forget, did you?
“It was fun tonight,” Brewer said. “We were passing the ball. Ricky had a great night. Kevin Love had a great night. The game’s easy when you’re passing the ball.”
This game was televised on ESPN for the world to watch. Ricky dished out 12 assists and grabbed 8 rebounds, but scored 0 points; the nation took notice. Again, the Kevins scored buckets (55 points) — this time it wasn’t enough. The Nuggets bench broke our hearts with 66 points.
“It was our defense all game. Our rotations weren’t there. We needed to help the helper, ball screen rotations, they were off all night but we were still right there at the end. We feel as if we can get a lot better with this team. It’s still mid-November and we’re going to get a lot better.”
• • •
Now, I’m going to pull a 180 on you and completely change the way I’m assessing these games. My boss is breathing down my neck…
Good, we better beat the Celtics 9 times out of 10. I swear if we lose to them the next time around…
Seriously? The Washington Wizards? We lost to the Washington Wizards?
Somehow we lost to a team that starts 5 whining babies and is coached by the Whiny Baby King.
Money can’t buy you love. Apparently it can’t buy Mikhail Prokhorov wins either. Wolves cruised in this one. Good times were had at the Target Center.
James Harden didn’t suit up for this contest. But hey, at least we have an All-Star starter. Am I right, Houston?
What did you expect? Indiana is 33-8.
Why can’t we beat the Nuggets?? Denver PG’s dropped 48 points on us. OUR DEFENSE BARFED.
Thank you for ending that 3-game losing streak. Love, Pek, and Martin dominated yet again. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute played his first game with the Wolves, posting a pretty nice performance off the bench in 26 minutes (4 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist, 3 turnovers). The Sheep (or better known as LRMAM) is averaging 10.5 minutes in January.
Kevin Durant put up video game numbers: 32 points (14-for-21), 10 rebounds, 12 assists, 4 steals, and 4 blocks.
Love shot 4-for-14.
We were outscored 35-20 in the 4th quarter.
SOURCES say we lost before tip-off. Love missed the game due to the death of his Grandmother.
“We don’t like losing back-to-back games, and we definitely don’t want to lose three in a row,” James said. “So it was a good pick-up game after the loss to Chicago.”
Andre Drummond meet Nikola Pekovic. Greg Monroe meet Kevin Love.
“We did a great job of pushing the ball,” Minnesota guard Ricky Rubio said. “We had fun out there, and we were aggressive. That got us to the line, and then Kevin (Love) just does everything for us.”
Back to .500 — Wolves rallied from 19 down behind Hummel’s 10 4th quarter points. How can you not cheer for Robbie?
“It showed the second unit can step up and can score,” said Love, who racked up his fifth game this season with at least 25 points, 15 boards and five assists. No other player has done it once. “So I guess this was a character builder for us.”
Love enters Starbury’s stratosphere, tying a franchise record with 8 3-pointers — he finished with 42 points. And it didn’t matter. We were outscored 37-21 in the 4th. 37 POINTS. THIRTY-SEVEN POINTS.
In 19 minutes Kevin Martin went scoreless. No worries… Love had 30 points and the Wolves went 12-for-26 from deep. Infinite Sorrow? Not tonight.
We talked about this game earlier…
Love took a leave of absence on defense tonight, allowing Sullinger to score 15 in the 4th. It was an ugly one that kept us below .500 yet again.
“He did take it up a notch at the end,” Stevens said of Sullinger, who made one 3-pointer all last season but pulled himself above 30 percent from the arc this season. “He’s a scorer. He’s always been a scorer. He’s been a scorer as long as I’ve known him. It never surprises me when scorers make plays.”
Definitely the best game of the season to date. Pek dominated. Love destroyed (finishing 1 assist shy of his first career triple double — again). And Oh My (Basketball) God Damian Lillard.
Swaggy P (we’re not giving the Lakers the time of day).
KEVIN MARTIN… HOLD ON TO THE BALL. People criticized Ricky for his 0 points in this loss, but I can find a million other reasons why we didn’t win.
In typical Wolves fashion, we lost a close one and respond by blowing the next team out of the gym. Sorry Washington, this was destiny. Barea and Shved combined for 30 points and the bench awoke from its season long coma.
Oh, Ed Malloy! IT WAS A FOUL. Thank you, Alan Horton…
Ricky Rubio came to play — 14 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks.
The Wolves Big 3 scorers combined for 63 points.
Anthony Davis is 20 years old. Whoa.
Record: 16-17 (we just can’t get over the hump)
Durantula wasn’t messing around, err, I mean the Slim Reaper — he ripped off 23 points in 4th.
“I just hear a lot of stuff and I just wanted to come through for my team in the fourth quarter,” Durant said, an apparent shot at some trash talk he heard from the Wolves’ bench.
Can we play at the Wells Fargo Center more often? Please?
Are you kidding me, Gerald Green. Like seriously!? I’m sure that’s exactly what Hornacek drew up.
Wolves were pissed about the loss to Phoenix and they took it out on the Bobkittens. This one was over at halftime, behind 39 second quarter points. Great offensive execution throughout the entire game.
Garbage defense with far too much ball watching and almost no hustle; a lethargic performance. I envy the damn Spurs.
Perhaps the worst game of the season. There was no energy in the building from the fans or the players. This might be the lowest point of the season thus far — getting destroyed by a 13-win team at home when they were on a back-to-back; flat out inexplicable. Skipping past these highlights might be the best idea…
Why can’t we win in Toronto? Minnesota’s last win in Toronto was a 108-97 victory on Jan. 21, 2004. This game was the definition of sloppy. Slow start, slow second, slow third, yeah you get the picture.
“We need to win, we need to string together a few in a row,” Love said. “If we can do that, our confidence will be right back.”
Of course this game wasn’t on TV. We all could have used a nice shellacking after watching 3 losses in a row, but I didn’t really care too much. Instead I played WhirlyBall for the first time ever with a group of friends. And let me tell you, it’s a blast.
Can we keep playing the Jazz? Every. Single. Night? The 76ers are suitable too.
So that’s that — the Wolves sit 1 game under .500 at the midway point. The season is far from lost, but as the weeks pass by — and spring inches closer — the room for error shrinks. The collective patience of our fanbase will almost certainly be tested, but if it’s too hot in the kitchen you can see your way out.
And seriously, if you made it this far surely you’re committed enough to comment…
All of us are pretty sick of the story already. We lost a close one to Phoenix, Kevin Love got pissed at J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham, they made up, and they said it’s over with. In an ideal world, the Wolves would go on a winning binge over the next ten games and this whole thing would evaporate into oblivion. But what happens in the next close game? I don’t even mean the next close loss either. I mean when we are up 1 point with 7 seconds left and the opponent has the ball. Is the elephant still in the room? How can we get it to leave?
Enter Norman Dale, the head coach in the movie Hoosiers, played by Gene Hackman. Dale was not a fan favorite from the beginning — the parents of the players hated him, as he preached the fundamentals and was willing to sit his star players if they played hero ball. Over time, he won over his team and it’s fan base, and got each guy to rally around him. Finally, before the state championship game, he delivered one of the most famous speeches in the history of sports movies:
If you think I’m trying to take a shot at Rick Adelman, stop right now. I love Rick Adelman, and I think he is a great coach. The reality is, he is not a rah-rah type of guy, and that is fine. He is a brilliant basketball mind, an exceptional teacher, and players seem to love him. Simply put, you can’t ask for much more in a coach.
With all of that being said, there must be someone who can be that rah-rah personality; the Wolves desperately need it. It doesn’t always have to be the head coach either – it can be an assistant coach, or it can be a player on the roster — but someone in that locker room must be able to take control of the moment, and get the team on the same page.
In a recent post on the excellent Wolves blog Punch Drunk Wolves, an interesting quote by Flip Saunders was cited:
When I came here, someone from the organization came to me and said, “You’re going to love our guys. It is the greatest group of guys and we have no problems with them. They are fun to be around and they don’t argue.” And I said, “That might be a problem.” Because sometimes you need to have at least that one guy who is kind of out there who has that tough personality and brings a little of that grit.
This is exactly what I’m talking about; the roster is full of lovable guys. We have Ronny Turiaf, Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer, A.J. Price, and my personal favorite Nikola Pekovic. But unfortunately, none of them are the type of person – not yet at least — that can take command of a locker room. And for all the talk of how J.J. Barea gives this team playoff and championship experience, he is far too emotional to be the voice of the team.
There is one person that I left off this list, and it’s not hard to figure out who. But for those readers that are tired, it’s Kevin Love. Love has taken some flak for not being the absolute leader in the locker room, and many people think he should be. (Please note, I am NOT talking about Bill Simmons and his podcast devoted to the bashing of Kevin Love’s body language. For those who do not know how I feel about that, check my Twitter feed. That should clear up any confusion) In my opinion, Love not being the clear vocal leader is in fact a huge issue, but it doesn’t mean it’s his fault.
Kevin Love has set himself up to be “the guy” in Minnesota, as he should be, by setting the world on fire with his play. He’s the best player the Wolves have had in a decade, and I pray to the Basketball Gods that we get to see him here for another decade. But because of that, it is difficult for another player to enter the room and be the leader without it feeling like he’s taking over the spotlight.
Remember, Love is only 25 years old. It is not unreasonable for a 25 year old to not be ready, at least quite yet, to be a leader of fourteen other men. But the ultimate leader role is his for the taking and because of that nobody else wants to go grab it; nor should they. We need Love to step up and grab it.
The Wolves are willing to wait for Love to develop into the vocal leader this team desperately needs, and we should all be patient too, but until he gets there someone has to play the role of Norman Dale. We need somebody to step up.
Now, allow me to repeat this in all caps: IT IS PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE THAT LOVE HASN’T TAKEN THAT STEP YET. HE WILL GET THERE IN TIME. WE JUST NEED A STOPGAP. And the stopgap probably cannot be one person at this point, but rather a collective effort from the Wolves to play to their full potential on a nightly basis while Love develops his voice and leadership skills.
Every team needs a leader — it doesn’t matter who it is and it doesn’t matter for how long. It just someway, somehow, has to be there. The Wolves need someone to rally around, to keep this group together and strong, so we can pull through the tough times and make the playoffs. Ultimately, the development in all of this may prove to be the most critical aspect in getting over the hump once and for all.
The good news is the Wolves didn’t take a close loss after a blowout. The bad news is that instead, they were blown out against an injured Spurs team that was missing Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, and Danny Green. It wasn’t a great preview for a team they very well may face in the first round…IF they ultimately make the playoffs.
The game was fairly back and forth throughout the first half and the result was a 3 point deficit going into halftime, despite some poor shooting by the Wolves. The game began drifting away at the beginning of the 3rd though, when Tim Duncan and Kahwi Leonard combined for the Spurs first 17 points of the quarter. The Wolves climbed back to within 3 with a few minutes left but the Spurs went on a 10-3 run to increase their lead to 10 heading into the 4th. It never got any closer than that.
One of the many problems in this game was the Wolves inability to defend well against the 3, where the Spurs more than doubled their 3PT% (69.2%) on 9-for-13 shooting overall (5-for-8 in the second half). Turns out, this is actually a reoccurring theme this month — according to NBA.com, in 6 games thus far in January, our opponents are shooting about 41% from downtown. Compare that to December, where we had opponents at 34%.
In our 18 wins, we’ve held opponents right at our December average (34%) from 3-point range, but in our 19 losses we’ve let opponents shoot about an average of 40%. Vice versa, in our 19 losses our 3PT% is around 29% and tonight our 3PT% was… 29%. And in our 19 wins we are shooting 41%. It’s simplistic, but worth noting nonetheless.
Secondly, outside of Pekovic — who led the Wolves with 22 points and 6 offensive rebounds — the starters shot a combined 9-for-37. We would have needed the best individual game from just about every bench player to overcome that, and Alexey Shved was the only second unit player that really showed up. The team as a whole seriously struggled to score, missing far too many easy buckets throughout the game.
Lastly, the team again showed an inability to play through calls and were physically outplayed all game. Along with this, when shots don’t fall, the team doesn’t hustle back and their focus seems to suffer. There were at least two times last night that a missed lay-up resulted in a blank stare at the rim, which resulted in fast break points for the Spurs.
The Wolves also looked completely discombobulated on the defensive end, so if you combine all of these factors there really was no chance to beat Popovich and his crew. Ronny Turiaf and Dante Cunningham were two of the only players who showed defensive effort all game (Rubio was pretty good too, holding Tony Parker to 14 points) but overall the team defense was an ugly sight. There was far too much ball watching and frankly the effort and passion just wasn’t there.
Moving forward this team needs to find a way to develop some sort of consistency. One night they look like the cream of the crop and the next night they look like a late lottery team. Hopefully they can start to show some of that consistency we’ve been searching for during this very winnable upcoming stretch — 3 of the next 4 games are against sub .500 teams (it goes Sacramento, Utah twice, and Toronto).On paper, Toronto is the toughest test, but Sacramento has also gone 6-4 in their last 10 games and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
January 21st marks the halfway point of the season and if the Wolves have postseason hopes, a 3-1 and preferably 4-0 stretch will be crucial considering the 3.5 game deficit in the playoff standings, along with a difficult schedule kicking off with road games against Golden State and Portland (a back-to-back on the 24th and 25th). Hopefully this team can pull out the winning streak we know they are capable of; it won’t get much easier than the next few games.
You may have heard by now—the Wolves are 0-10 in games decided by four points or less. The script is becoming all too familiar: the Wolves either battle back from a deficit but can’t seal the deal, or seem like they have the game in hand but fall apart when it counts.
Wednesday’s loss to Phoenix was the latest in a string of bilious defeats (thanks for that, Jon Barry) that left the Wolves at a breaking point. The tensions between Kevin Love and JJ Barea reached a boiling point, and it’s not yet clear whether the panacea of victories will wipe the slate clean, or if chemistry will continue to suffer, maybe even ending in a trade.
It’s easy to lose a close game. A shot rims out, an opponent nails an improbable shot—there’s a multitude of ways that things can go wrong. Over the course of an 82-game season, most teams will get unlucky and drop a few close games, and win a few close ones through lucky breaks of their own. But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that this streak of close losses is no coincidence. The team gets visibly tight in late-game situations, and every loss only serves to compound the worries this team has about late-game plays.
These losses can be hard to take. I wanted to re-watch the ending of the Phoenix game and break it down in greater detail to hopefully understand more about how that game got away from us. Turns out, it was revealing. Here’s a breakdown of the major moments from the end of Wednesday’s game:
4:25 — Brewer hits a three to push the lead all the way up to nine. The team is playing well at this point.
4:17 – Dragic gets free off a screen at the top of the key and nails a long 2–very nearly a 3. The crowd energy is pretty low.
4:02 — Rubio turns it over on a really sloppy post entry to Love. It was lazy execution and gives Phoenix a 3-on-2 fast break that results in a Dragic and-one. 97-92, but only because Dragic missed a free throw. At this point, it could just as easily be 97-94.
3:59 — Kevin Love gets a pretty soft foul call, nails 2 free throws.
3:30 — Rubio hits Love for a wide-open 3 that Love would make most nights. He misses. It just wasn’t his day.
3:18 — Goran Dragic *nearly* scores a fast break and Rubio gets hooked by PJ Tucker. Not sure what he was thinking, either a complete lapse of judgment or a frustration thing for Tucker.
2:44 – Plumlee fouls out. Wolves up 7.
1:51 — Brewer misses a free throw, then hits the second. Wolves are still, somehow, up by 5, with only two minutes to finish.
1:21 — Wolves up 4. Rubio gets the ball into Love who has an iso post-up. He misses it. I’ll note that we have 3 timeouts left at this point and it probably would’ve been a good idea to run a set play here and not an iso.
1:09 — Dragic pushes it and scores with relative ease. 2 point game. Can someone please stop him from getting to the rim so easily?
:46 — Just an abysmal play. No real motion leaves the floor poorly spaced. Rubio wants to feed it to Love but can’t, and is forced to go to Pekovic. Pekovic nearly turns it over, but gets it back to Love–who looks to pass back and gets it stolen for real.
:31 — The patented Rubio ‘drive into the lane and hope a play develops’ junk which predictably ends in either a missed Rubio shot or (this time) a turnover. Out of a timeout. Let me repeat, out of a timeout.
:16 — Down one, Phoenix calls a timeout. If they had pushed the ball, they probably would have scored.
:03.9 — The crowd is into it now. They have clearly realized that we really, really need a stop. Gerald Green gets a handoff that doubles as a screen and nails a shot that I absolutely couldn’t believe he made. I still can’t believe it.
Then, Minnesota calls a timeout and STILL HAS ONE LEFT OVER.
0:00 — Kevin Martin actually gets some pretty good separation, and if the defender had less hustle than PJ Tucker, he might’ve been wide open. Still, he manages to drive into the lane and get a good shot off–but he lays it up too soft and misses. Game over.
So what did we learn? Well, for one thing, it’s a little deceptive how late the lead actually fell apart. Only a series of weak foul calls and good luck saved the Wolves from losing the lead much earlier than they did. While the team as a whole needs to step up, certain things really hurt the Wolves in this one.
Yes, the crowd. Look, I’m not asking for people to go nuts. Target Center is never going to sound like the Oracle. But the crowd has to make some damn noise in the fourth quarter. They sounded pretty much dead every time at every moment other than immediately after a Wolves basket. It wasn’t until the last Phoenix possession that they really started getting into it. This isn’t trivial. The team has struggled to close late games and when the home crowd can’t buoy them, it only feeds into the whole fear of a disaster for everyone.
I honestly wasn’t expecting to find Adelman a culprit here, but there are some really questionable coaching decisions I noticed. The biggest is not using timeouts properly—Adelman had several opportunities where a timeout would advance the ball and get us a chance to run a set play (which have been quite successful in late games for the Wolves). He missed them, and we ended the game with a wasted timeout—almost unconscionable. I’d also question some of the lineups, in particular the last play of the game where there really should have been more shooters on the floor instead of guys like Pekovic.
He’s really struggling in the half-court late in games. This isn’t a knock on his whole game. But it has become an issue. Rubio tries to drive quite often in late-game situations, and it almost always ends poorly. When defenses are ready for it, it either ends with a pull-up jumper by Rubio, or a desperation pass—often a turnover. In part, Rubio needs to make better decisions, but a big part of the equation is that poor ball movement in these situations is forcing him to try to generate offense by himself. Rubio is significantly more effective when players are cutting and coming off screens.
Now, Love generally isn’t the problem late game for the Wolves. He’s usually the solution, and for the most part he’s the reason why we’re even in a lot of those games to begin with, but Wednesday just wasn’t his night (4-for-20). He missed a lot of shots he normally wouldn’t, though I’m not unhappy about seeing a few iso post-ups for him in the late game. He does quite well with them most of the time. The biggest factor is ensuring that there’s actual movement in the play so that Love is clear to get the ball—easier said than done late in the game.
By now the word has spread across the interwebs and televisions alike, basketball in Arizona isn’t just about the Wildcats; the Phoenix Suns are legitimately good too. Earlier this season, it was relatively easy to dismiss the Suns. All you had to do was cite a small sample size and overachieving gang of misfits and cast-offs. But through 33 games, it’s becoming more difficult by the day not to take the Suns seriously — as in they are a legitimate threat to make the playoffs in the super competitive Western Conference.
If you made a list of the NBA’s biggest surprises thus far, you would be insane not to mention the Suns resurgence. They won 25 games all of last year and finished with the fourth-worst record in the NBA. This year they have already rattled off 20 wins (and 13 losses) with a first year head coach — Jeff Hornacek — that owns a roster heavy on point guards and forwards, and thin in meaningful NBA experience (playoffs).
Heck, to make it even crazier, their lottery pick hasn’t even chipped in. The 20-year old Ukrainian center, Alex Len, who they drafted 5th overall this past June, hasn’t been healthy all season and is clearly not ready to contribute in a major way for an NBA team at this moment.
But enough about how great things are for the Suns right now. All of this is meant as an introduction to my main point, which is that the Wolves need to send a message tonight at the Target Center. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN for the world to watch, and the last thing we need to do is lay a dud against the current 7th seed in the West. This is a monumental opportunity to not only move ahead of .500 for the first time since late November, but to show the Suns that their playoff spot is actually our playoff spot, and we’re coming for it.
I don’t care if the Suns are legitimate, I want a blowout tonight. I want Kevin Love to show every person that hasn’t figured it out yet that he’s one of the greatest basketball players on the face of this earth. I want the fans around me at the Target Center to get their asses out of their seats and show some passion. I want a night to remember, not one to look back at in frustration and confusion, trying to gather answers and aimlessly rationalizing why we lost to an overachieving Suns squad.
Wins are so much better in that way — all of the question marks and concerns have a funny way of fading away, if only for the moment. And I welcome that as a result of tonight’s game. The Suns are good, but I firmly believe the Wolves are better and I pray that the results validate it.
Here’s one of my votes from earlier today, for instance:
— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) January 8, 2014
Here’s a video the Timberwolves put out this morning in an effort to continue the bid to get Kevin Love as a starter in next months All-Star Game in New Orleans:
The Wolves head into this week in an all too familiar spot, hovering around .500, after their most recent late-game debacle. The same issues that were apparent rather early in the year continue to plague the team — bad late-game execution, poor bench play (with too many rotational players who specialize in defense and struggle to score), and yet again one of the worst long-range shooting teams in the league (33.7% / 25th in NBA).
This is what we know. And for the (insert large number here) consecutive week, these issues have been widely discussed as the starting point from which to draw inferences or conclusions about what’s really eating the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Mark Remme talked about Controlling The Final Five Minutes (the Wolves are currently 0-9 this season in games decided by four points or fewer), Derek James also discussed the late-game troubles HERE, Benjamin Polk offered a conclusion that there are, “fundamental weaknesses in the team’s roster construction that underpin it all” in his post Timberwolves in the woods. He also adds a remarkably interesting line that I re-read about ten times over:
“We’re not actually looking at a starters/bench problem. We’re looking at a Kevin Love/everybody else problem.”
Steve McPherson also reminded us HERE that even though the Wolves couldn’t get over .500 for the seventh time this season, on Saturday, basketball is still a fun game and the thunderous battle verse Oklahoma City was an absolute blast to watch; even if it was coated in disappointment and heartbreak.
So, I guess the moral of the story is this:
Yes, the Wolves continue to lose games in the same ways, just with different details. But the season is far from over and all is not terrible.
I’d be silly not to mention that the Wolves are still in thick of the Western Conference race — 2.5 games behind the Dallas Mavericks, who currently sit in the eighth and final playoff spot. And the core four — Love, Rubio, Pekovic, and Martin — has played in all but 3 games (Love missed one due to the death of his Grandmother, and Martin missed two contests due to knee soreness). Also, the rest of January looks pretty favorable; 9 of the Wolves 13 games are against teams that are .500 or below (stupid Raptors are 16-16).
Say what you want about where the team should be. It’s fairly simple to argue that we could be far better than 16-17 and 3rd in the Northwest Division, but reality is we’re not. This is what we are, and it’s time to move forward from here. The next step is getting over the proverbial hump (.500) — a task that has proved difficult this season.
That means a look at this weeks four games… (I’m going to do it a little bit different this week, and individually look at each matchup in a singular post, rather than a quick blurb about each game).
Tonight the Wolves get their first look at rookie sensation Michael Carter-Williams. While Trey Burke has been the talk of the rookie class over the last few weeks, my money is still on MCW taking home the ROY.
Here’s a quick look at some basic stats:
Last time the Wolves faced the 76ers, it was Robbie Hummel who played hero. The former Purdue product scored all 10 of his points in the final quarter and lifted the Wolves to a comeback victory over an inferior 76ers squad, one that played without their fine rookie.
Tonight, the Wolves need to come out with passion and play Philadelphia as if this is a playoff game. There have been too many instances of the Wolves playing to their opponents skill level, and after 33 games it’s something that has started to become bothersome. This is professional basketball. I don’t care if you play the San Antonio Spurs, the Utah Jazz, or the Milwaukee Bucks; every team is capable of winning on any given night.
The Wolves should destroy the 76ers tonight, because they flat-out, unequivocally, have more talent. In the end, any sports team that wants to make the playoffs must beat the teams they are supposed to beat, and win a handful of games they probably have no business winning. Tonight is a game against a team that we should almost always beat; that is, if we’re indeed a playoff team.
One thing to keep an eye on tonight is how the Wolves bench plays. Last game against Philadelphia they scored 24 points and helped ensure victory. After two 5-point efforts last week, I’m quite certain that all of us would like to wash those performances from our brains, and our mouths.
Side note: the Wolves absolutely killed it in Philly last year, to the degree that I almost wish we played our home games at the Wells Fargo Center. We won 105-88 and dropped 65 points in the first half. We also hit a season-high 13 three-pointers that game.
To conclude, here is a hilarious skit from one of my all-time favorite shows It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia:
The cycle has begun anew. The Lakers signed Wes Johnson this summer, and Lakers fans popped open their champagne bottles, as they often do. Like the pick-up of Greg Oden and Michael Beasley by the Heat, it was a low-risk, high-reward signing. And, after all, their franchise had turned players into superstars before, right? With a little help from Kobe, Wes Johnson would be the next big thing in L.A.
Here are some sample tweets:
“Wes Johnson WILL be the next @kobebryant if he has the mamba mentality. He has the skill and will be a long-term Laker.”
“Wes Johnson was a beast at Cuse and for the Twolves. He was on the All-Rookie Team”
“Wesley Johnson might be another one of these diamonds in the rough that Mitch seems to find – i.e. Earl Clark, Shannon Brown”
One could argue that Wes Johnson has undergone a bit of a renaissance in Los Angeles. He’s shooting a career-high 37% on 3-pointers and has had quite a few highlight dunks so far this season — like this for instance:
The reaction from Lakers fans so far might be called “cautiously optimistic,” if Lakers fans were capable of tempering their “divine right” style of optimism. Surprising play from guys like Nick Young and Xavier Henry have for the most part overshadowed Johnson’s play, but there doesn’t seem to be a ton of negativity towards him from Lakers Nation at this point.
Still, the red flags are there. He continues to get to the free throw line at an abysmal rate, having shot just 16 free throw attempts through 27 games. Though it’s not a fair comparison, James Harden has nearly 200 attempts in several less games. For an athletic guard who likes to take it to the rim, the total inability to draw fouls continues to hamper Johnson’s efficiency.
He’s also not averaging more points or assists per 36 minutes than he did in Minnesota, and advanced stats like PER and WS/48 say he’s still a seriously below-average player.
It’s not that Wolves fans want to see Wes Johnson fail — I think most of us enjoy his beaming smile and superhuman athleticism. But we know too well the perils of having hoped for and been let down by Wes. If he doesn’t make it in L.A., it could be his last stop.
I hope Wes turns into an All-Star overnight, becomes an iconic Laker, and proves the doubters wrong. But at this point, I wouldn’t bet on it. So what’s the solution for Wes Johnson? How does he finally turn it all around?
No, it’s not a new shooting form, training regimen, or even the mentorship of Black Mamba. It’s the decathlon.
The decathlon consists of ten different track-and-field events performed over the course of two days. The length and scope of the event has made it the event that crowns “The Greatest Living Athlete,” at least unofficially. Do you see where I’m headed? Wesley Johnson may lack basketball skills, but he is a tremendous athlete. His sheer athleticism pushed him to the NBA, but it’s clearly not the best possible setting for him. Maybe I’m naïve, but I see no reason why Wesley Johnson wouldn’t be primed to dominate in contests that relied on pure athleticism. Let’s break them down.
Sprinters are highly trained, and getting off the block quickly would be a technical challenge. Still, Wes is a quick guy, and while these might not be his strength, he should be fine here. Basketball players can run over 3000 meters a game. (Of course, basketball players don’t run meters, they run feet. But we make some concessions to compete on a global scale.) Wes just needs to hold his own in these. He should be fine here.
Long legs have to give Wes a leg up here. Right? Right?! Or if he can’t figure out how to get over the hurdles in rhythm, he could always take this approach:
Wes would destroy this event. Heck, if you told him to dunk over the bar he might not even need that silly pole that the other vaulters use.
Again, Wes should blow the competition out of the water. It’s about 19 feet from the free throw line to the baseline. While I don’t know exactly what a meter is, 19 feet sounds way longer than 8.95 meters, the world record long jump. The only struggle here would be teaching Wes to keep going forward rather than dunking a ball midway through his jump.
If Wes can manage the discus throw without getting dizzy and throwing it in the wrong direction, he should do okay here. Boy, a lot of these Decathlon events are kind of redundant. They should replace one of these with a dunk contest. Or thumb wrestling.
This seems like it would be easy for a high-flyer like Wes, but the technical skill required to execute what I hope is still called a Fosbury Flop is probably not trivial. Still, he’s got more than two years to learn how to do it. This is for the greater glory of America.
America has gotten a gold medal in the decathlon 13 times in the last 25 times the event has been held. We’ve won it the last two Olympics. In an era where the Olympics reflect not only modern day superpower tensions (see: 2012 Beijing Olympics) but also a referendum on human rights (America’s delegation to Sochi being a calculated slap in the face to Russia’s stance on gay rights), winning is more important than ever.
Sure, the decathlon isn’t just a pure athletic contest–it’s a multifaceted and complex competition whose participants train non-stop to compete at the highest possible level. But this is America–can’t we dream? Why can’t one of the best athletes in basketball, a sport that fields some of the best athletes in the country, make a splash?
It would be true redemption for Wes Johnson, a point of national pride for all Americans. And most of all, it would free the Wolves of one of their many draft day demons. “How on earth could we have passed him up?” we would say, “After all, he was the World’s Greatest Athlete.”