How eerily similar did the Wolves-of-new look like the Wolves-of-old against the Hornets tonight? If you didn’t watch, just read along.
Last season it was the Kevin Love-Michael Beasley show nearly every game. The two formed a special scoring punch but were so putrid on defense together, teams had easy dribble-drive opportunities and owned the paint for that reason; Beasley never tried to contest the perimeter all that well, while Love’s help defense was more of a detriment than anything.
With no one else to amp up the defensive efforts or contribute enough of a scoring barrage to make a true difference, the formula resulted in loss after loss along with agonizing headaches on a nightly basis.
Tonight’s game against the Hornets carried the same trend of the 2010-2011 regular season. Beasley indeed made his return after missing five games with that stubborn sprained toe of his. Beaz got 30 minutes of burn and made due with his time out there, hitting 7-11 from the floor — 3-4 from three-point land — and bagged 20 points off the bench. As for Love, he netted 29 at a 49-percent clip. He also had no turnovers and five offensive rebounds.
The offensive end was no issue for the Wolves; they shot a combined 10 three-pointers and controlled the ball better than they have in the past few games with only 11. It came down to the Hornets out-hustling the Wolves in the paint, as well as the Hornets’ guards finding holes to drive in the defense.
The Hornets’ Jason Smith and Chris Kaman both tallied double-doubles; Smith went for 26-10, and Kaman tallied 21-10. They completely destroyed the Wolves on the glass and in the paint. Those two combined for a smooth 21-26. The inside buckets were just too easy to get because Nikola Pekovic and Love were scattered to help on defense while the Hornets’ guards, especially Grevis Vazquez, relentlessly drove the hoop. Disorganized as they were, they were left out of position underneath, giving Smith and Kaman room to grab the offensive rebounds for easy deuces.
As mentioned earlier, the Wolves-of-old was the Love and Beaz show, and no one else could do enough. JJ Barea did his best Luke Ridnour-of-past impression by going 4-12 from the field. He had just three turnovers, which trumps his colossally bad seven against Golden State last Wednesday. But it’s clear to me that Barea can’t handle running the offense with the starters. The group never seems to gel nicely. Whether it’s because he dribbles too much or just can’t command the likes of Love and Pek, something is at a serious dysfunction on offense.
Nevertheless, the main problem remains to be the porous defense. Wesley Johnson, our so-called defensive stopper, had no blocks or steals. Pekovic is not defensive-minded enough to pose any sort of a threat in the paint. And our guards, starting with but not singling out Barea fail to move their feet and stay in front of the penetrator. It leaves the entire defense scrambling to stop the drive and it ends in rebounding efforts and numbers that the Hornets posted tonight.
The downfall continues with a game at home against the Phoenix Suns next. They, unlike the Wolves, are competing for a playoff spot now, so the difference in tenacity and care will be drastically different. But hopefully the return of Beasley will help give everyone some sort of jolt. Ahh, the hell with it. This season’s over. Go, Utah.