I’ve heard talk of the Timberwolves in the playoffs, but let’s put that idea on hold for a while and instead, let’s discuss the more pertinent optimism.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are 24 games into the season (over a third of the games have been played already…time flies on a compressed schedule!), and they are a .500 team.
It didn’t come easily, this watermark of mediocrity. Starting off the season against Oklahoma City, the Wolves were essentially assured of an uphill battle back to the middle. They lost to Milwaukee, which would have made them 1-1. They lost to Memphis, missing 3-3. A loss to Utah prevented 8-8. They couldn’t reach 10-10 against the Lakers. The Pacers prevented 11-11.
Several sites, perhaps discounting the Milwaukee loss as too early in the season, have incorrectly said that Minnesota had four opportunities before tonight to get back to .500, but in reality, tonight was the sixth attempt.
Maybe all the pomp and circumstance from writers is what made it difficult for the Wolves to get here. Maybe it’s tough to focus on the game at hand when everyone wants to talk about what winning the game would mean. Maybe every writer has been like me and spent five paragraphs talking about getting back to .500 without mentioning a thing about a big home win for the Timberwolves. (*Ahem*)
The teams were predictably chippy tonight, playing for the third time in three weeks. The fans started by booing Kevin McHale. Then they booed Luis Scola. And Kyle Lowry. Then, later, Luis Scola again for having the audacity to put his face right where Kevin Love’s foot was supposed to be.
Fortunately, once all the dust settled, there was still a game to be finished.
Minnesota’s first half was everything we enjoy watching from this team. They were sharing the ball well, hitting mid-range shots, and playing energetic defense. There was a really nice alley-oop from Rubio to Wes Johnson, which has become such a staple in most Wolves games.
Adelman made a really interesting defensive adjustment, allowing Wes to guard Kevin Martin and putting Ridnour on Chandler Parsons. It was absolutely the right call, despite the obvious mis-match potential of Ridnour vs Parsons. Wes bothered Martin and took him completely out of rhythm, forcing Martin into 1-10 shooting. Parsons struggled against Ridnour. He seemed to feel the pressure to perform with the smaller Ridnour guarding him, whacking away at the ball whenever Parsons brought it down low. The aggressive defense disturbed Parsons, and he missed a ton of shots, never really seeming to get comfortable. If a defensive strategy can prevent an All-Star from beating you, role players are going to have a much harder time doing so. Adelman gambled on it and he won. Smart man.
Houston threatened the Wolves in the fourth, getting the lead all the way down to three before two plays sealed things for the Wolves. First, with Minnesota up by just five and 4:22 left in the game, Ridnour missed a three, but Pekovic got the offensive rebound. Barea cut around his man and found Ridnour open in the corner…the crack in Houston’s zone defense. Ridnour swished the three, and put the Wolves up by eight.
Then, just two possessions later, with the Wolves up six, Love drained a contested three, giving the Wolves a much-needed nine point lead. Rubio drove to the lane a couple plays later, icing the game with a layup.
This game is, boiled down, just another win for the Wolves. They are .500. They have won half and lost half of their games.
But as of right now, the Rockets are 9th in the West. And here’s my last thought: you will be hard pressed to convince me that the Wolves, at full strength, aren’t plain and simply better than Houston. In their first matchup, Minnesota was missing several key players. As the necessary pieces started to return, the Wolves won the next two. Minnesota may or may not be a playoff team. But they are pretty good.
At very least, they aren’t losers now.