Things have gotten a little crazy since December 15th, when my wife and I welcomed our first child (a healthy, impossibly happy boy) into our lives. As a result of all the love, attention and maintenance our little guy requires, a few things have slipped through the cracks, such as keeping tabs on the work I’ve been doing around the internet.
A few game recaps from the past month and a half (you can see the full thing by clicking on the titles):
“Last year, the Blazers’ starting five was felled by a historically weak bench, and they won only 33 games. Improvements in that area – Mo Williams, C.J. McCollum, Dorell Wright, and Thomas Robinson in particular – have helped them begin this season 33-11. The Wolves are saddled with the same issues. Their bench isn’t atrocious every night- they’ve actually been decent, of late – but the drop from the first unit to the second is a problem, nonetheless. It’s be nice to think of the Blazers as a team further along on the long road to contention, and that the Wolves can follow their road map. Whether Minnesota’s front office has the creativity (nevermind the cap space) to pull this off, no one knows.
“But a funny thing happened at the end of the third – instead of laying down, as many road teams would do on the second night of a back-to-back, the Wolves began to fight, but could never seem to get over the hump. Whether it was lingering frustration over being unable to close the gap, or whether the officials grew weary of his bickering, or whether Barea finally said the magic word (or words), he was hit with two consecutive technicals with 6:43 to go and was tossed from the game. J.J. had spent two solid minutes seething, jawing at officials on both ends of the floor, nary a teammate about to settle him down. It played out like a bizarre sideshow – a child throwing a tantrum in a crowded place, his parents (the coaches) and brothers (his teammates) too apathetic to step in and take charge.”
“The real turning point came in two sequences – the final play of the 3rd quarter, and the first play of the 4th quarter. Two Alexey Shved free throws with 8 seconds to go in the 3rd tied things up at 77, and Oklahoma City had the ball for the final shot. Derek Fisher airballed a three, but then Gorgui Dieng did something I can’t quite explain (just watch the video). Then, to open the 4th, Chase Budinger fouled Jeremy Lamb in the act of shooting a three (which went in), leading to a 4-point-play opportunity. The Thunder didn’t cash in, but the entire sequence spelled the beginning of the end for Minnesota.”
“Minnesota’s core group could do no wrong. That especially includes Kevin Love. No matter what happens in the future, it’d be a shame if Timberwolves fans didn’t just stop and appreciate what it’s like watching this guy suit up for their favorite team on a nightly basis. All the little things that might rub you the wrong way about him – sniping at referees, a lack of hustle in transition defense, poor body language – were absent tonight. What you got instead was all the good stuff – beautiful outlet passes, a precise understanding of the halfcourt offense, a stepback three, gorgeous catch-and-shoot rhythm jumpers, and tough rebounds on both the offensive and defensive ends.”
“Even the most optimistic Timberwolves fan probably didn’t expect the hometown squad to dominate one of the top teams in the NBA as thoroughly as Minnesota dominated Indiana on Wednesday night. True, the Pacers were on the second night of a back-to-back, and the Wolves were fresh after having a full week off thanks to the All-Star break. But this is Indiana we’re talking about, owners of a 41-12 record (at the beginning of the night), rolling along with the game’s next superstar (Paul George) and sporting the league’s best defensive rating. How did Minnesota, short two of their three best offensive options (Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin), manage to handle Indiana so convincingly?”
“Tuesday night, Minnesota’s most unique player played a vital role in their victory over the Phoenix Suns. Shabazz Muhammad’s modus operandi doesn’t fit the mold of most NBA shooting guards – he’s going to post up and crash the boards with reckless abandon. The superstar (Love) nearly notched his second triple double in three games (33 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists) but it was Shabazz’s unique traits that sparked the Wolves’ important win.”
“You knew the Wolves weren’t going to blow another game to the lowly Kings, especially given their current desperate state, right? That the bench wouldn’t be to blame, especially since they’ve been better of late? You knew beforehand that Quincy Acy and Reggie Evans weren’t the same person, correct? That the Timberwolves weren’t going to fail to keep Rudy Gay in check for the second time in a month and a half? And you knew, at some point, the Wolves record in close games would progress to the mean, that they couldn’t just keep losing tight contests in perpetuity?
The answer to all these questions: “I thought they might.””
A few feature pieces from the past few weeks:
“The loaded Western Conference features five teams that figure to be shoo-ins to the playoffs, barring catastrophic injuries: Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Portland, the Los Angeles Clippers, and Houston. The final three spots will almost certainly come from the following group of six teams: Phoenix, Golden State, Memphis, Dallas, Denver and Minnesota. It will probably take 46 wins to make the playoffs in the Western Conference (side bar: the 8th seed in the East will likely have 35 or so). Can the Wolves get to 46 victories? They’d have to finish 23-13 in order to make the (somewhat arbitrary) benchmark I’ve set for them.
How do the Wolves stack up against the competition for the 6th, 7th or 8th seed in the Western Conference? What does the remaining schedule look like for each contender? Are they trending upward, downward, or have they leveled off? If we take a look at each, what can we learn about the road ahead for Minnesota, and their odds for reaching the postseason for just the 9th time in 25 seasons?”
“Nowhere are Barea’s faults highlighted more vividly than at the ends of quarters. When the Wolves gain possession with fewer than 35 seconds left in a quarter, it’s a safe bet that they’ll hold for one attempt at the end of the shot clock – common practice in the NBA. The strategy is sound – the Wolves’ transition defense leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s better to leave the opponent with little or no time to hustle down the floor for a quick bucket. The problem, of course, is execution.”