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Our beloved Timber Puppies couldn’t figure out how to slow down Kevin Martin’s offensive onslaught and the Rockets’ big third quarter more specifically on their way to their 34th loss of the year. And even though they did make things interesting and prolong the game to a very extensive and boring contest in the waining moments of the fourth quarter, it was just too little, too late to overcome the Rockets’ enormous lead.
There are two reasons you ought to be disappointed in this game for; 1) The Wolves had over 4 days rest to strategize and ready themselves for this match up; and 2) They didn’t play defense. A sore thumb in our side nearly all season long, but when it was probably the focus of three or four practices, it shouldn’t get out of hand as quickly as it did.
Well put, coach.
It’s hard to pinpoint any sole reason for a lapse in the defense tonight. All players must equally take the blame for poor perimeter defense and a lack of inside help. But we’ve seen this all year. Outside of Corey Brewer and maybe Darko Milicic, this team doesn’t have any key defensive stoppers who can rise up and make the play when needed. Say if Shane Battier were on our team tonight, I can guarantee K-Mart doesn’t go off nearly to the extent that he did tonight. And although I mentioned the lack of inside help as a part of our poor team defense, it really does start with our perimeter guys. They’re the ones allowing guys like K-Mart, Wesley Matthews and Dorrell Wright go off for big games against us, even on our home court. It’s something that should be addressed in the next few weeks with the trade deadline staring David Kahn right between the eyes.
The offensive end was a different story entirely. Kevin Love had a monstrous game with 25 points, 17 rebounds and even tallied seven assists on to his final line. Love only hit one three tonight, but managed to get to the line 11 times. . . Oh, and converted on every single one. Love’s fantastic performance lengthens his double-double streak to 30 games now, and is continuing his strong push for the All-Star weekend.
As for the others, it was nice to see Beasley get back on the floor and play regular minutes. It seems like it’s been forever since we’ve seen him out there making plays. What encouraged me was how many times he took it closer to the basket. I’ve quickly become fond of his mid-range game, dubbing it one of the NBA’s deadliest, but the closer shot is still a higher-percentage look, and when I see him take it within 10-feet of the hoop, like he did on his first bucket of the night, it’s reassuring that he’s not going to settle for open shots from outside. Darko was again efficient on 7-13 shooting, but when you have a 6-foot-7 center in Chuck Hayes defending you, you have no choice but to produce efficient scoring numbers.
Even more exciting than Love’s big game, Beasley’s re-emergence and Darko’s efficient outing was Wes Johnson’s increase in production. There’s been lots of talk in the last few weeks suggesting Wes has hit the rookie wall, so to speak. He’s lost minutes in Rambis’s rotation and therefore his production, and possibly confidence, has taken a drastic hit. But Wes needed this game more than anything. In a hefty 33 minutes of work, Johnson registered 19 points. The kicker? Only six of those came from deep, the thought-to-be single dimension in the rookie’s offensive repertoire. Tonight he displayed he willingness to draw fouls and get to the line, something the Wolves desperately need to keep their cool and give them more time to set up their sets on the defensive end. When Wes can create shots and draw fouls, it opens up a plethora of opportunities for other players because of his ability to find other options and deliver the rock with smart, quick passes. The Wolves need a guy like Wes to take on that third scoring option role, which would allow guys like Corey Brewer and Luke Ridnour to step into their more familiar roles and carry on with business.
Maybe even more important than Johnson’s newfound confidence on the offensive end was his aggressive nature on defense. He’s shown more rookie moments on defense this season than offense, and has never statistically faired well on defense. But tonight, the rookie managed to steal the ball three times and block two shots. Impressive. If he keeps this up and finds some consistency to his game, — something most rookies struggle with, but keep in mind his almost like a veteran rookie at 23 — he may find his way back into the starting lineup again before season’s end. Who knows?
This game is just another sign that things still aren’t where they should be. There’s an obvious log-jam at the wing positions that ought to be cleared up by the time of the trade deadline. The need for more athleticism and defensive prowess on the frontline is a must-have. And even just the fact that this young group of guys still have a long way to go on the learning curve. Wins will come, but some housekeeping may be in order for that to come to fruition.
So whether you like it or not, the nice, little break the Wolves received was no match for Houston’s intensity and sheer offensive fire-power. Obviously the Wolves’ pitiful defense played a large role, but pure scorers like K-Mart are hard to stop in this league, no matter what defender is guarding him. Next up is Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night, another Western Conference team that is much better than us but not so far out of our reach to take down on a good night’s work.