I have to believe that there are just about two ways to make a team great in the NBA; 1) Just sign superstars and ride their tag-teaming ways all the way to the playoffs, or; 2) Sport one of the deepest benches, full of more-than-capable players that the coach can lean on even in the waning moments of a clutch win.
After watching last night’s game against the Blazers, it’s clear to see that the Wolves don’t really have either of those above. Kevin Love is a superstar but he’s a little lonely on that front. But then again, the rest of the starting lineup can play pretty great in spurts, making them look like a playoff caliber team. But then the first quarter ends or we’re midway through the third and Adelman motions his hand for (ugh) JJ Barea to come.
The clear difference in this game was the play of the two teams’ bench players. As preface, you should know that the Wolves’ bench is 27th in scoring, 29th in field goal percentage and dead last in overall efficiency on the court. It’s as if their scoop dirt dirt back into the hole that the starters began, looking for paydirt. Last night had an eerily similar trend.
After the first quarter lead, the second unit of Barea, Alexey Shved, Chase Budinger, Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf went out there. All they really had to do was do their best to keep it close while the starters rested. That’s all we really ask. But instead the Blazers took the inferior competition and ran with it to win that quarter by 10. The same thing happened in the fourth, to a lesser degree because Adelman knew it was crunch time and he’d get ripped for keeping Barea and Co. out there any longer than he should’ve.
The bench is a serious Kryptonite to the starters’ armor. And on the otherside of the court, it was completely the opposite. Barea couldn’t contain Mo Williams to save his marriage (Wouldn’t that be sad?!). And Thomas Robinson made Dante Cunningham look like he was ready to quit. Those two combined for 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. I think Adelman would kill to get that out of his entire bench on any given night.
I don’t wanna take credit away from the Blazers by blaming this loss on the Wolves’ putrid bench but it had a big part in it for sure. The Blazers are for real, though. Their early season success isn’t a fluke. LaMarcus Aldridge should be an All-Star. Robin Lopez plays the perfect sidekick to Aldridge in the paint on both ends. And I wouldn’t trade Damian Lillard for Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook or even Derrick Rose. He’s that good, folks. They’re a team built to do really well in the playoffs I think too, and play in a terrific city that loves their basketball with all their heart.
As for the Wolves, it wasn’t a good loss but they certainly learned the standard of which a playoff-like team plays at game in and game out. In order to become one themselves, they have some things to figure out and hope that the bench can finally get their heads in order and play a little more consistently each and every night. Until then, you can’t just keep hoping the starters combine for 90 to keep them close.
Wolves should actually feel okay about getting a split in the Northwest trip, holding onto that big win in Golden State. Next up are the Bulls on Monday night. See you then.