5 Thoughts on the Roller Coaster Timberwolves

For the 2nd straight game, the Wolves helped their opponent build a 20+ point lead in the 1st half thanks to poor offense and lifeless defense. And for the 2nd straight game the Wolves made a furious comeback that fell just short. Although the Wolves outscored Dallas in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters, they were handed another loss. Here are 5 thoughts on the up and down loss to the Mavericks:

 

  1. Bounce back performances from Ricky Rubio and Josh Okogie were a welcome site. One good game for each of these players does not mean they have concluded the slump or issues that were plaguing them, but it does show that they still have high-quality basketball inside of them. Rubio started poorly in the 1st quarter and was certainly a factor in helping Dallas build their huge lead, but he was steady for the remainder of the game as he organized the offense and mixed in some classic Ricky flash. His “plus/minus” was as low as a -18 in the 1st quarter, but he ended at a very steady +10. Ricky is definitely a “rhythm” player, so he got better as the game went on as he received more minutes after the Russell injury. When the team returns to health, he will need to be able to work himself into a groove in shorter stints when tasked with running the 2nd unit. The Ricky that we saw last night would be very valuable in that role. Josh Okogie seemed to get back on track as well. After consecutive games of being played off the floor because of poor offense, Josh was back to his slashing and harassing ways. Offensively he is still not a threat to shoot, but he drove through the defenses’ seams multiple times to then pass out to the Wolves’ 3pt. shooters. That is where he is valuable, along with getting to the free throw line for 4 attempts. Defensively, JO was the pest that we all recognized from early in the season. Along with Beasley and Edwards, they frustrated Luka into 7 turnovers, and although he scored 26 points they made sure it took him 22 shots to get there. Okogie is so key to this team’s perimeter defense, so if his offensive game can continue like it was against Dallas, he will stay in the rotation.
  2. An uneven game from the rookies shows that there is still plenty of growth needed. Jaden McDaniels, bless his heart, had his first real “rookie” game. Although he made 2 three-pointers, he had multiple defensive and rebounding mistakes that directly cost the Wolves points. On defense he consistently lost his man when defending off the ball leading to easy cuts for baskets. Jaden also did not box out on rebounds several times and was out-leaped to the ball by Mavericks. Any young player would be surprised by the length of Porzingis and the strength of Doncic, so these are all completely excusable mistakes for a rookie. It will be up to him to watch the film and make sure he has corrected a few things prior to the next game. Our favorite French Fry connoisseur, Anthony Edwards, was mostly good, but likely learned a few things as well. For example when there is a 7’3″ human that is camped out in front of the rim, you might need to make an adjustment to how you finish over that player. Kristaps Porzingis finished with 6 blocks because Wolves players, especially Ant, kept attacking him when he was positioned perfectly under the rim. KP is not some fierce rim protector, but his length and height make it easy for him to stuff shot attempts when he is in the right position. Hopefully this game taught Ant that his finishing package and floater game will need some work to become elite around the rim. Side Note: Ant was not done any favors by the coaching staff with some of the lineups used in the 1st half. At one point Ant was playing with Rubio, Davis, Layman, and McDaniels. The Mavericks were completely loading up to stop Ant’s drives because none of those players on the court with him are enough of an offensive threat. Porzingis was happily camped out at the rim waiting for Ant to join him there. Edwards did finish with 22 points and 4 assists, with several other nice drive and kick passes that did not lead to assists. He continues to show that he is getting more comfortable, and we all love watching him do so.
  3. Malik Beasley may have been born in a volcano with how quickly he can get hot. What an inferno of a 4th quarter for Malik Beasley with 6 made 3pt. shots (all of them contested attempts). He was previously 0/5 from the 3pt. line before deciding he wanted the Wolves to make a comeback, and finished with 30 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists. When Malik gets hot, he plays with an energy that is infectious to the rest of the team. His scoring was not the only thing that nearly erased a 20+ point deficit. The entire team’s defensive energy improved and they relentlessly attacked on offense. Beasley sees himself as one of the team’s leaders, so it is very encouraging that he was not willing to quit even when faced with long odds of making the game close. That is the attitude the team needs from their best players, and the rest of them need to follow suit.
  4. I’m not really sure what Dallas is yet. Are they a contender? Will they struggle to make the play-in game? The Mavs are probably somewhere in between those two outcomes. In the 1st half against the undermanned Wolves they looked like their best version. An offense that centers are Luka but with the ball whizzing around to find their shooters on the perimeter, and a defense that funnels everything to their giant Latvian big man in front of the rim. They were punking the Wolves, and there was nothing that Minnesota could do about it. Then towards the end of the 1st half Dallas just stopped doing what had built them the big lead. Porzingis floated in and out on offense, and the offensive movement that confused the Timberwolves’ defense to start the game slowed down. Granted, the Wolves played smarter and with more energy in the 2nd half, but it seemed like Dallas opened the door and let them right back in. They have some great players, and talent wins in the NBA, but we will see if that can take them further into the playoffs in the brutally tough Western Conference.
  5. Whatever halftime speech is being delivered to spur these past two comebacks would be great prior to the next game. Forget the great 2nd halves the Wolves have played for a second. Losing consecutive 1st quarters by an average of 20 points is a really bad look. To me that shows either the game plan is very flawed, or the players are not properly energized. Either one of those options occurring(or both) reflect poorly on the coaching staff and veteran players. As Wolves fans know, falling into a large deficit to begin games is not a recipe for wins. Kudos to the team for the effort and energy it takes to climb back into these games, especially for a young team, but they are going to need to start off better in these upcoming games to avoid blowouts at the hands of quality opponents. The coaches and veterans surely know this, so we will see if adjustments are made.
 

-Jerry W.