Joyful Wolves: 5 Thoughts on a Series Split

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox)

Two out of three ain’t bad! The Minnesota Timberwolves have won 2 out of their first 3 games since the All Star break, and played very competitively in their lone loss against the Blazers. A 2 point win last night against the Blazers again keeps the good vibes going, and offers a nice springboard into the 2nd half of the season. Here are 5 thoughts on the 2 game series with the Portland Trailblazers.

 

The Anthony Edwards show is coming to a stadium near you! How much fun is Ant having? He seemingly creates his own energy throughout the game. After every score he either trash talks an opponent or smiles and celebrates with teammates. It really just depends who is closest! I can not remember a player in the NBA that seems so happy when he does something well, and this is all without fans in the stands. That is the attitude that makes him such a loveable player, and the amazing dunks and step-back 3’s certainly help. The shorthanded Wolves relied on Ant for offense in both games against Portland, and he did not disappoint logging box score lines of 21–8–3 & 34–4–2 (points-rebounds-assists). In game 2, the Timberwolves win, it was especially important for Ant to rise to the occasion and score as much as he did. Portland was intent on taking away Karl-Anthony Towns in the post, and sent double-teams at him every time he touched the ball. The Wolves needed a 2nd hub on offense, and Anthony Edwards stepped up. His sequence of a monstrous dunk in traffic and a step-back 3pt. shot late in the game to hold off the Blazers come back was the type of flash that star players have. It was a clear sign of an arrival of sorts, and a willingness to make the play in the big moments. Fans hope to see that many more times.

 

Karl-Anthony Towns continues to take on a leadership role, and his differing stat lines support that. In game 1 on Saturday night, Towns was able to see that his shorthanded team needed him to be the star offensively, and he delivered with 34 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists. He kept his team in it, but the Wolves ultimately fell short losing by 4 points late in the (questionably officiated!) game. That is the type of star performance that fans have come to expect from KAT, and the Blazers came into the game on Sunday insistent on not letting Towns beat them. They showed hard double teams on KAT early and often forcing him to give up the ball. He finished with only 13 points and 8 rebounds, but added 8 assists and certainly should have had more if teammates had hit some open shots. This is a clear display of KAT recognizing what is needed to win, and adjusting his game accordingly. He also mixed in some excellent defense late in the game, and helped his team win game 2 of the series. As the team gets healthy, life should become easier for KAT on offense as he will have more room to operate for himself and to get teammates involved. Hopefully the winning plays from him keep coming!

 

Head coach Chris Finch is pulling the right levers. It is odd to see a Timberwolves coach make so many substitutions late in games and to see a Wolves team change up their offensive and defensive strategies based on the flow of the game. The past two head coaches, Tom Thibodeau and Ryan Saunders certainly had differing qualities, but one characteristic that was consistent between them was sticking with certain lineups/rotations and a strict adherence to schemes on the court. Finch seems to coach much more on feel and game flow. He has principles on offense and defense to rely on, but it seems that he changes his team’s strategy on both ends of the court based on what is working and what is not. That seems like a no-brainer, but it is something that Wolves fans have not seen for a long time. As coach Finch continues to learn more about his players and they get used to his philosophies I think we can expect to see many more fun tricks that we have not seen from coaches in the past.

 

Jaylen Nowell does not seem interested in giving up playing time when the team gets healthy. At this point, it will be nearly impossible to keep him off the court. In the 3 games since the all star break he is averaging 19 points on 61% shooting from the field and 62% from the 3pt. line. This is all only in 27 minutes per game off the bench. Jaylen adds an extra gear to the offense when he is scoring like this. As a good ball-handler who can get to his spots and hit shots off the dribble, he becomes very difficult to guard as he becomes a threat from anywhere on the court. So far Nowell has been a streaky scorer in his time in the league, so it will be interesting to see how long this hot streak keeps up. If he continues down this path it will be very difficult to cut his minutes when other guards like Russell and Beasley return, but if he falters he may lose a large chunk of minutes. Jaylen likely knows this, and is going to try to stay locked in for the foreseeable future.

 

 

So, another win. Is this good in the long run? YES. Winning is good. I understand the odds of the draft pick go down as you move up the standings. If the Wolves good vibes continue, they may end up ahead of some of the other tanking teams in the league. That is OK! The way they end the season matters. Ant and Jaden learning how to win, and that they can directly influence winning matters. It matters to make sure Karl-Anthony Towns knows that this is the place where he can win. Winning cures mostly all that ails you! The Wolves will not make the playoffs, but they can surely vault into the offseason on good vibes and motivated to make it work if they are a competitive team in the 2nd half of the season. At this point, the pick will fall where it falls. Unless the team absolutely catches fire, they will still have good enough odds to get in the top 3 in the lottery. In my opinion, it would be much more fun to finish the season strong and go into the offseason with plenty of momentum regardless of the outcome of the draft lottery. Basketball is way more fun when your favorite team wins, so I hope to see many more of them the rest of the way.

 

 

-Jerry W.

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