So back to .500 they go.
Thanks to Steve Novak and a huge night from behind the arc, the Raptors were able to bury the Wolves, keeping them from jumping two games above that dreaded .500 mark, and even shut Kevin Love down from grabbing his second triple-double of his career. The Raptors shot 14-24 from deep, including a 5-6 mark from Novak in his 20 minutes of burn off the bench. Compare that to the Wolves’ respectable 7-19 from that territory, you can see why this one was a little bit out of their reach for most of the game.
The Big Three came to play once again. The Love-Pek-Martin combo combined for 63 points, while Corey Brewer contributed 17 of his own. But it was the difference in the benches that swung this one’s result. Raptors got a lift of 15 from Novak and 12 from Greivis Vazquez to completely open up the game. By that point, the starters from Toronto just had to play marginally to score the win, which is exactly what they did. In fact, Novak and Vazquez combined netted a plus-28 while on the court. The rest of the Toronto starters combined for a plus-2, so it should’ve been much closer if it weren’t for that meddling white guy.
This was kind of hurts for a few different reasons. For one, the Wolves were playing some excellent basketball, in particular some stout defense, for the past couple weeks. But the Raptors all but blew that open by shooting red-hot from the perimeter. Sometimes it’s just a hot night, sometimes it’s poor rotation and not closing out on guys properly. I think it was a little bit of both in this one. Secondly, the Wolves are fatefully bound to this .500 mark. No matter how good this team can be, they’ll always seem to hover right around that record it seems like. They’re the classic case of, “Well, we’re pretty good but we’re still gonna make bad mistakes and let a three-point shooter off the bench take us down.” Classic.
And finally, I’m finally starting to keep my eyes on the playoff race. So, as I took a gander at the West’s standings this morning, I realized quickly that the Wolves are; A) a long shot to make that final spot; and B) are totally screwed by being in the Western Conference period. Under new commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA will undergo some changes. They’ve already looked at a European division. There’s talk of expanding the court and making a 4-point shot, or at least increasing the distance of a three-pointer. All good ideas. But if you really want to fix this league and the parity that runs through it, the divisions must be eliminated and the conferences of East and West completely scraped clean. I get that teams change and new ones get better, old ones get worse but it’s been this way for quite a while that the West is just straight-up more dominant from top to bottom than the East. And it’s sickening. The Wolves would actually be in the 7th seed right now in the East. And although that doesn’t bode well for a first-round matchup with the Heat or the Pacers, at least it’s a taste of the playoffs that could jumpstart the fan base a little more and perhaps give Kevin Love a little convincing to stay.
The Raptors are a good squad, and there’s no denying the fact that this could’ve been a statement game for the Wolves had they won it. But the frustrating thing is that even the Raptors would struggle to compete in the West, just like the Wolves, but instead they get to reap the benefits of playing in the East and now they’re fighting for home-court advantage in the first-round despite having a good enough record to even make a spot in the West. I didn’t intend to make this recap a rant on what I believe should happen in the NBA soon but this game was a perfect example of how the league can better its teams by ridding itself of divisions and stirring up the pot that is the East/West divider.