Coachelor

The Coachelor

Coachelor

Written by: Nick Allen and Jonah Steinmeyer

Relationships aren’t easy.

Not just finding the right one, but maintaining them can be just as difficult. That’s been my problem lately. Well, I suppose I should introduce myself before going on much further. Some of you may know me as the Minnesota Timberwolves; others simply refer to me as the Wolves or Pups. It’s all the same to me. As you may have heard, I find myself in the same position I was in three years ago: without a coach.

It’s kind of exciting to be back on the open market, to be honest. My three seasons with Rick Adelman represented the second-longest tenure any coach has had with me before. Is it sad to see him go? A little. His 42.2% winning percentage is the third-best of the 10 coaches I’ve had since my formation in 1989, behind Flip Saunders (55.8%) and Dwane Casey (43.4%). Adelman helped me finish third in the division for the first time since the 2004-’05 season and finished just three wins shy of becoming the second coach to win 100 games with the team. However, he ultimately wasn’t able to snap the embarrassing streak of what is now nine straight losing seasons and ten seasons without making the playoffs. I think the timing was right for both of us to move on.

Of the 25 NBA teams that currently have a head coach, their “relationships” have lasted an average of about 2.8 seasons, or roughly 230 games so far. Gregg Popovich’s 1,410 regular season games coaching the Spurs kind of skews that number, though. Without Pop, that number drops to about 2.2 seasons, or around 180 games. The average length of my past relationships has been about 2.44 seasons, or about 200 games. It’s normal to keep track of these things, right? Either way, at least I’m not the Pistons, who have serious commitment issues, getting rid of two coaches in a in just 10 months from February!

I’m one of five teams that will already be hooking up with a new coach for next season, but the NBA chose to come to me with this unique opportunity. I wanted no part of it at first, but decided to give it a little thought. After weighing my options for several moons, I ultimately decided to take the NBA up on their offer; an offer that could potentially find me a new coach for the long-term, which is what I want right now. I couldn’t let it slip through my paws. I thought I’d be embarrassed to say it at first, but if it puts me in a better position to find a coach that will bring me back to the playoffs, then I must be prepared to admit that I am . . .

The Coachelor.

OPENING NIGHT

I was pretty anxious heading into the first night. Crunch offered to be there for support in making such a difficult decision, but I told him it’d be better for me to do this on my own. As expected, the NBA withheld the identities of the 10 coaches that would be arriving to the mansion. I was a little disappointed that I would have to cut the number of people from 10 to 8 by the end of the first night. The first cut would basically be all about the eye test. Who could pass it?

I was at least able to convince the NBA to do one thing, however. I figured one would need to be able to deal with the weather conditions if they’re going to coach the Timberwolves, so the NBA pulled a few strings with some people I don’t think I want to know. Several inches of snow were dropped throughout the state as temperatures plummeted and the arrival of spring prolonged. Sorry, Minnesota.

10 coaches to arrive and only eight roses to hand out. Let’s do it!

I put my cleanest jersey on and went to the front of the mansion to greet the group of potential coaches. A giant fountain stood in the center of the driveway, sprouting water high into the air as green and blue lights made the water glow in the night sky. That water must’ve been freezing. The first limo approached, passing by giant torches surrounding the fountain. I truly felt butterflies for the first time. Who would be the first to arrive?

The limo slowed to a halt, its tires crunching over the snow as the driver got out to open the door…

THE CONTESTANTS

George Karl: Rumors have been swirling around as to whether or not Karl is interested or if I’m even interested in Karl as a potential coach. The fact of the matter is, you never know how things will go down in the off-season and Karl’s presence on this list of candidates is to be expected at the very least. Five NBA teams have called on him before to lead their players and he brings 25 years of coaching experience to the table. Karl’s teams have only missed the playoffs three of those 25 seasons. However, he has never been able to win a championship. A lot to consider.

Sam Cassell: Here’s a familiar face! As many remember, Cassell played point guard with the team for a couple of seasons from 2003-’05. Cassell was made an assistant coach under Flip Saunders with the Washington Wizards back in 2009 and one can only imagine how useful his experience and knowledge has been for guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. How could he help Ricky Rubio?

Tom Izzo: Will he stay or will he go? I have a feeling there will be a couple of other people that show up on here in similar situations as Izzo. Reports in March suggested that Izzo wouldn’t be interested in leaving his coaching gig at Michigan State for a crack at the NBA, but it hasn’t been ruled out. His presence here confirms it. So there. How can Izzo translate his collegiate coaching success into the NBA, if he so chooses to go down that path? Izzo seems to be able to rally his team as well as anyone by the end of the season, making the Spartans dangerous every March. Can he make the Wolves dangerous in April, May and June?

Fred Hoiberg: Ah, another former player of the team steps out of the limo. Hoiberg played on the team for the same stretch as Cassell, retiring after the 2004-’05 season. Hoiberg took a front office job with the Wolves and eventually became the head coach of his alma mater, Iowa State. The Cyclones have shown improvements after each season under Hoiberg, reaching the Sweet Sixteen in this year’s tournament. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him at Iowa State, but it may be tough to pull him away.

Lionel Hollins: After bringing the Grizzlies to the playoffs three straight seasons, losing in the conference finals in the final season of those three, it was a surprise to some to see Memphis cut Hollins loose. After having taken this season off from coaching, Hollins’ name has been floating around for a coaching job next season. While Hollins’ separation with the Grizzlies may have been largely due to conflicts with management, he’s still an interesting candidate for the job with proven success in his coaching career.

Sam Mitchell: Man, another one? I’m not complaining by any means, it’s great to see old players showing up for a chance to coach the team. Some may not know that Mitchell has head coaching experience. After spending most of his playing career in Minnesota, Mitchell spent a couple of years as an assistant nearby in Milwaukee. Mitchell was given a chance to coach the Toronto Raptors where he failed to make the playoffs for the first two seasons, but improved the team by 20 wins from the 2005-’06 to ‘06-’07 seasons, winning the NBA Coach of the Year in the process. He was never able to help the Raptors get past the first round, but he did show he can help a team improve.

Mark Jackson: I was kind of surprised to see Jackson step out of the limo, but interested in the prospect of him becoming coach nonetheless. Unfortunately, I recall things happening almost exactly like this… Jackson gets out of the limo, looks at the snowy ground and says: “Aw, hell no, take me back to the other side of the fountain. I’m out!”

And just like that, I only had to get rid of one person.

Lindsey Hunter: This is an interesting one. Hunter served as the interim head coach for the Phoenix Suns in 2013, going 12-29 in 41 games as the coach. The Suns ultimately went with Jeff Hornacek to take over for the ‘13-’14 season, leading Hunter to go to Golden State as an assistant coach. While the Warriors’ regime under Jackson was rocky, to say the least, Hunter could still be an option for the head coaching position. If not with Golden State, then maybe somewhere else.

Billy Donovan: I’m kind of surprised by Donovan’s presence. I didn’t really expect him to be here, considering his relationship with the Florida Gators. I don’t know how interested he truly is in a chance at coaching in the NBA. He agreed to coach the Orlando Magic back in 2007, but changed his mind less than a week later and ended up staying with the Gators. While his back-to-back championships several years ago and four-straight Elite Eight appearances are impressive, how interested would he be in moving from Florida to Minnesota? And would he actually commit to the deal if we got to that point?

Time for the last person.

The limo pulls up and the door is opened. My heart stops. I wasn’t expecting to see an ex- here tonight . . .

Flip Saunders: Although my owner, Glen Taylor, has stated he would prefer Saunders to stay in a front office role within the organization, I figure there must be a reason why Saunders is here with the others. Just to stir things up? To cause drama? I mean, he is the only coach to lead the team to the playoffs and have a +.500 coaching record over 10 seasons. And I know he won’t turn away because of the snow.

THE FIRST IMPRESSIONS

There are so many great choices, and thanks to Jackson’s early self-entitled departure, I only had to eliminate one more coach this very night. They all have so many great qualities, so I spent time getting to know them from the beginning. There was a lot of surface talk, chit-chat. I wasn’t all that interested but kept telling myself that this is a long, grueling process and I needed to be thorough. I couldn’t just get to know these coaches on that deep, intellectual level right away. Some seemed distant, like Izzo and Hoiberg. I tried to get them to open up but they seemed preoccupied, like their hearts weren’t really into the idea of the job because they had something else pretty great back home already. And then some were very forward in getting to know me more. I liked that but Hunter, more specifically, continually pushed himself into my conversations and really only kept talking about himself, like it was his way or the highway.

THE ROSE CEREMONY

The end of the night was near, and I had to step away to make my decision on who was going home tonight. I sat and looked over their resumes and thought more and more about what kind of interaction I had with each of them through the night. Oh, this is just so hard. It made me question why I said yes to this whole ordeal in the first place. But then I thought of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and the Wolves’ restless fanbase, who just want to simply make the playoffs. This is bigger than just me.

I called the coaches in for the first Roses Ceremony. My hands were trembling as these prestigious basketball minds lined up in front of me. I picked up the first rose, and my words just stumbled out, “These roses belong to the coaches who truly believe that they can help the Wolves make — and advance — through the playoffs.” In no particular order, I started calling out their names to come take a rose.

“George Karl … Sam Mitchell … Sam Cassell … Billy Donovan … Lionel Hollins … Fred Hoiberg … Tom Izzo … and (gulp) Flip Saunders.

“I’m sorry, Lindsey, but you, just like your dear friend Mark Jackson, seem too bullheaded and selfish to be my next head coach. Things in Golden State ended pretty rotten, and although you did some terrific work while there, the baggage was just too much for me to take on at this point.”

With Hunter and Jackson officially gone, the remaining coaches gathered for a toast and I assured them all that I will do my absolute best to get to know them in the coming weeks. It’s going to be a long road in finding my new head coach but I’m embracing the challenge head on, knowing that my fans and players will have my back.

Next week on The Coachelor: The coaches continue to push for my attention and I’m kind of enjoying it. Not many before this point have vied for the job this hard, so it’s something new and exhilarating. But just as everything seems to be going just fine, one of our contestants tells me he’s just not ready to be with me on this level quite yet — or maybe even ever. Stay tuned!

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2013-2014 Timberwolves Season Recap: 5×5

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The NBA playoffs are in full force and I can’t help but toss back whiskey and feel depressed watching them. The 2013-2014 Timberwolves were supposed to be playoff contenders. Maybe not a championship-worthy team but at the very least a solid playoff-bound squad, looking to make some noise and upset some real contenders. That clearly didn’t happen. Instead, the Wolves are facing yet another draft lottery selection and pretty much just one season to straighten things up, and in a big way. Looming roster changes and a new coaching search spell a new future for the Wolves. Where will it go? How did last season influence what happens next? Find out what the writers of HTW think below the fold.

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About Dieng Time?

Dieng or Pek? That shouldn't be the conversation...

Dieng or Pek? That shouldn’t be the conversation…

There’s been a lot of talk recently on the Wolves’ rookie center Gorgui Dieng. Most notably, David Thorpe had some overly nice things to say about the Louisville product’s development and, more importantly, his production over the last month.

The Timberwolves’ best news, though, has come in the form of their rookie center out of Louisville, Gorgui Dieng, who has exploded onto the scene and will now play a huge role in Minnesota’s future plans — a role that could also have a big impact on Love’s decision whether to stay in the Twin Cities.

Woah now! You’re telling me that Dieng could impact where Kevin Love is going to play basketball in a year and a half? Either Thorpe is psychic or he’s gone off the deep-end. But sure enough he stuck by his point/article and reiterated his enamor for the rookie big man on today’s version of TrueHoop TV.

Dieng has been a awful nice piece. I won’t fight anyone on that account. His per game numbers on the season are terribly misleading because of exactly what Thorpe said: Rick Adelman doesn’t want to play young guys unless; A) they can flat-out ball WITHIN the system; B) he’s forced to develop because management said so or now, in the Wolves’ case; C) injuries force Adelman’s hand to play unproven commodities. And if you argue with Adelman on that point, you’ll never win.

So instead, let’s take a look at his numbers for the past month since taking over for Nikola Pekovic, who is nursing a constantly troubled ankle that hindered him last year into this season. Firstly, Dieng’s numbers as a starter in eight games are pretty nice. He’s averaging just over 12 points and 12 rebounds as a starter. He boasts a solid true shooting percentage (59 percent) and, what I personally love, is that is usage rate is on the lower side compared to Pekovic, who runs as focal point 1B in Adelman’s offensive sets, especially early in ball games.

What Thorpe was so excited about in regards to Dieng was his defensive aptitude and the always-sexy athletic intangibles. He’s right that Dieng is a fantastic above-the-rim defender, whereas Love and Pek, now both average to above-average defenders, stay well below the rim, utilizing their strength to move bodies and grab defensive rebounds. At 6-foot-11, 245 lbs., Dieng is a force in the paint who can jump above the rim and force penetrating guards out and make some of the most offensively skilled big men to think twice about their movements.

Gorgui Dieng has exploded as a starter in lieu of Pekovic

Gorgui Dieng has exploded as a starter in lieu of Pekovic

But what I’ve noticed looking at the numbers is that Dieng only, and I stress only because of how Thorpe pumped up Dieng so highly, averages just over a steal and a block per start in an average of nearly 32 minutes in a game. Perhaps probing steals and blocks in just eight starts makes me look out to be a cynic but considering five of those eight blocks came in just one game, maybe you’d think more about Dieng’s rim-keeping abilities.

I know I’m being harsh. After all, the guy has a 99 defensive rating total on the year, which ranks him amongst some of the best big men (Tim Duncan, Deandre Jordan, Roy Hibbert, just to name a few) in the league. But that’s the point. Everyone is so hopped up about Dieng’s play, which stirs some converse feelings about Pekovic’s standing on the Wolves in the future.

Thorpe is convinced that Dieng is the answer and that the next proper move would be to exchange Pek for some help off the bench or perhaps try to lure one more star in here, at least for the short-term, to convince Love to stay five more years. I understand how refreshing it is to watch Dieng play but do we have to go back and remind everyone just how good and valuable Pek is to the Wolves too?

Pekovic is a better defender than what many give him credit for

Pekovic is a better defender than what many give him credit for

Pekovic came from nothing when he started in the league. He was foreign to NBA basketball and even the USA. He fouled too much, he was reckless and turnover-prone on offense and he didn’t seem to care all that much, taking after his good buddy Darko Milicic. But then something snapped, Pek got hot in his second season, corrected a lot of mistakes — many of which had to do with basic defensive positioning — and eventually performed consistently enough to land him a hell of a pay day last summer. Although the injury bug flies often near Pek’s home, he’s still a top-five offensive center with a knack for banging the offensive boards better than anyone BUT Kevin Love. Pek is actually the fourth-best starting center in terms of offensive rating and also a big-time free throw shooter at nearly 75 percent this season.

Pekovic clearly has value to this team, despite his faults of not being a great defender or a low usage rate guy on offense. But in terms of statistics, he and Love have formed a formidable pair over the past two seasons, which is why he was awarded his fat pay check in the first place. As we all know, statistics aren’t exactly the best way to measure a team’s success — the Wolves would be the first to claim that after this abysmal, disappointing season — and wins are still the ultimate decider. Footnote: Dieng has a .139 win shares per 48 compared to Pek’s .170.

Getting back to coach Thorpe’s idea of trading Pek to make way for Dieng as the new starter in Minnesota, I think it’s obviously clear that that’s not an easy decision to make. Dieng’s sample size as a starting NBA center is too small to determine is long-term potential, and Pekovic’s inconsistent court time could simply be chocked up to shitty luck.

So here’s an idea for ya: Keep BOTH of them!

I’m a full-believer that Dieng can develop into a quality starting center one day but he, just like every rookie, must go through the learning curve, which will see plenty of ups and downs. Just as Pekovic. And as for Pekovic, having watched him grow over the past three seasons, I fully believe that he’s a top-five offensive center — perhaps even top-10 offensive big man — in the NBA. Just like Dieng’s hopping ability and length, Pek’s size and brute strength are healthy qualities to have at your disposal, no matter who’s coaching. So what’s so wrong with keeping both?

Here’s how I see it. You have a top-five, rim-protecting defender with great agility, some good abilities on offense and always plays with high energy in Dieng. You also have a top-five low-block scorer, who is at the very least average on interior defense and a rebound mogul. One is still learning the game, such as positioning, trends and playing styles and the other has been forced to miss a lot of time due to injury. Also, according to both players’ by minutes averages, they both play their best ball when seeing the court anywhere from 20-29 minutes per game. 20 plus 20 is a full game of basketball, folks.

If you ask me, together, Dieng and Pek create one of the most dynamic, physically-gifted tandems the league has seen out of two centers in a very long time. There’s no reason to think that these two players couldn’t play together for the next couple years and make an impact on both ends of the court each and every night. Playing a “center by committee” isn’t a popular strategy but it’s one that could very well work in Minnesota given Dieng and Pek’s strengths, abilities and physical and mental boundaries.

That is why there should be nothing wrong with these two playing together. But still, the problem with many NBA critics today — myself included — is they’re too quick to judge and immediately look to fix any mistake or redundancy they can find. Just because Dieng has looked great in eight starts does not mean that the Wolves should trade away a center in Pek, who’s posted PER numbers of 21, 20 and 20 that past three seasons. That’s why it’s utter lunacy to think and act on such a short-term basis. Most of the time, you’ll just end up sounding like a fool when all comes to fruition. And believe me, I’ve fallen victim to this more than I’d like to know.

In the end it’s a “Why get rid of one when you already have both?” situation for me. There’s no reason to rush a decision of who you have to keep right now when you can enjoy having both of them for the foreseeable future. While I appreciate reading and listening to David Thorpe and others bask in Dieng’s glimmer of success because it has been a silver-lining to what is yet again a very depressing season, there’s no reason to throw ideas of moving in a new direction or trading anyone when, in actuality, keeping both could be all the depth the Wolves need in the first place.

Gas tank on empty; Wolves lose 129-106

Gorgui Dieng doing work

Gorgui Dieng doing work

How did you spend your Wednesday night?

Well, mine started with an ice-cold one as I sat on the couch, put my feet up after a long day at work. Then I remembered the Wolves were in Dallas for a pretty pivotal matchup with some serious playoff implications, which Nick so gratefully laid out for us.

To all of our delight, the Wolves came out in the end with a brutally hard-fought victory. Brilliant efforts from Ricky Rubio, who recorded his first triple-double including a very rare 20-point performance, and Gorgui Dieng, the unheralded rookie, who’s found time due to Nikola Pekovic’s injury, led the charge over the Mavericks. It was the kind of victory that had a lot of beef to it; an overtime bout against a formidable foe, who’s pushing right alongside the Wolves for a spot in the playoffs. You’d really think it’d create some momentum heading into the second night of a back-to-back in good ole’ Texas.

Well, unfortunately that wasn’t really the case. In fact, outside of just one good quarter tonight in Houston, — the first quarter, to be exact — the Wolves pretty much ran out of gas and fought for the sake of saving some embarrassment all night long. At the hands of the red-hot Houston Rockets, though, what more could you really expect?

One thing I would’ve liked to expect was back-to-back great nights from Ricky Rubio but that was just like trying to piss in the wind. And just when I was so jazzed up after reading Britt Robson’s great piece on the Spanish point guard and watching him play so well last night. Instead, Rubio may have been the first to tune out due to fatigue, only playing 25 minutes total after burning the hardwood for 49 ticks last night. He finished disappointingly with just five points and eight assists.

Another thing I would’ve liked to see tonight was a consistently sound performance from Dieng, but we didn’t get that either. Actually, fans got to gaze upon something much more special than that. Dieng finished with career-highs in points (22) and rebounds (21), which included a ridiculous eight offensive rebounds. Sure, the Rockets were indeed without All-Star center Dwight Howard but Omer Asik is a more-than-capable fill in and Dieng worked him to pieces. He benefitted from the perimeter-oriented Rockets’ attack but the numbers are gauntly, so daft that even the $12 million dollar man himself (Pekovic) probably couldn’t top it any better. It’s now been three games in a row that Dieng has brought his game when called upon and became a real force to be reckoned with.

Other than Kevin Love’s standard night of 29-6-5, though, the rest of the Wolves really fell in line with Rubio’s doing; simply just a lackluster performance that was fueled by fumes and 5-hour energy shots more than anything else. You can’t blame them because they probably felt the way I did after work on Wednesday night. And let me tell you, that’s never a fun place to be in. Well, unless you have beer and a comfy sofa like me. But instead they had to go out and play another game against one of the hottest teams in the league. That’s just cruel.

The fact of the matter is that this was still a tough loss and excuses probably shouldn’t be made. In fact, with Howard being out, this actually could’ve been a win for the Wolves, given how well they’ve been playing the past month. With the playoff picture practically just mathematically alive, any game, whether the opponent is great or not, is coming down to must-wins. Time will run out if the Wolves aren’t careful. And although it’s an extremely difficult uphill battle, the odds are still alive. Why not at least make a push?

Old School whips New School; Wolves lose 105-93

Big Al put on a show tonight in Charlotte

Big Al put on a show tonight in Charlotte

Remember back, like, a really long time ago, when Al Jefferson was the mainstay of the Kevin Garnett-to-Celtics deal? At the time, he was a highly skilled big man that brought a glimmer of hope that the NBA’s fruitful big men weren’t officially retired, and what was a somber move for the Timberwolves organization actually had some life and excitement to it.

The most unfortunate part of the deal was that the rest of Gang Green was sent packing alongside Big Al and the dooming spiral of depression that was the mid late 2000′s covered the Twin Cities like Hurricane Katrina.

Jefferson, now older, wiser but perhaps a tad slower, gave the Wolves a healthy dose of what could’ve been tonight by putting the Bobcats on his shoulders and sprinting them through to the finish line and a big win for Charlotte over the Wolves tonight. He finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds, helping Charlotte win that battle by a tally of 54-35. Ouch. They actually held all Wolves players, including Love and Pekovic, from reaching double-digits in rebounds tonight. A very rare feat indeed.

Meanwhile, the Wolves’ bench played crappy and, conversely, the Bobcats’ bench didn’t. Gary Neal had 19 points and Chris Douglas-Roberts and Cody Zeller both pitched in 10 themselves.

At a time the Wolves oughta be desperate for the wins, losing to the Bobcats is a tough one to swallow. And despite how well they’ve been playing since the All-Star Break, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that a chance at the playoffs are moving further and further away each and every night. I’m not giving up hope, but these are the facts, people.

Think about it: 13 of the Wolves’ next 18 games are against the dreaded Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Suns take on seven Eastern Conference teams and the Grizzlies remaining schedule includes two games each against the Jazz and the 76ers. Based on what lies ahead, not just for the Wolves, but the others fighting for that final playoff spot, it doesn’t add up well for Minnesota.

That’s still no reason to quit. In fact, the final 18 games of the season could be the most important, regardless of the playoff race. Look up and down this roster and tell me that there will be major changes. Aside from the long shot odds that Flip Saunders moves Kevin Love, every key piece will return next season. Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin are here on long term deals, Ricky Rubio will return on his rookie salary, and Corey Brewer will stay even if his role may be reduced to a reserve if they can find another small forward with a more well-rounded game. The Shved’s, Barea’s and even perhaps the Budinger’s of the squad could be in doubt, which could benefit next season greatly, given how drastically underwhelming the bench has been just about all season. But now you also have a chance to develop guys like Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, who didn’t get much burn to start the season off (Figures). Rick Adelman could have a difficult time inserting those guys and developing them at this juncture, especially when someone like Muhammad magically posts a minus-18 in just 10 minutes of burn but you just have to do it. End of story.

Games like this are going to litter the end of the season and potentially spoil it, but as long as we don’t give up playoff hopes — because literally anything can happen — we’ll be just fine. As Minnesota sports fans, we’ve all learned to expect the worst but still desperately hope for the best. We can do it for the Wolves for just one more season, right?

Novak Nightmare; Wolves lose 111-104

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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.

Wolves a winning; Beat Kings 108-97

Nikola Pekovic came back tonight and in a big way

Nikola Pekovic came back tonight and in a big way

There’s a new attitude gleaming from the entire Wolves organization. Prior to the All-Star Break, hope was all but lost on making the Western Conference playoffs and looming personnel decisions like the trade deadline and Kevin Love’s status braced headlines from blogs and Twitter pages across the entire web.

But now, as winners of five out of the past six contests after the All-Star game, the Wolves’ playoff dreams are beginning to look a tad more realistic, and everything couldn’t be gelling as well as it is at a better time than now.

Tonight the Wolves got both Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic back from injury, giving the Wolves an enormous boost. Those two helped lift the Wolves to a solid win in Sacramento by combining for 46 points. Martin was the hot-hand to begin with, scoring 14 in the first, while Pekovic gave Boogie Cousins a healthy dose down low as well. The two’s return couldn’t have been better planned, considering Kevin Love had a bit of an off-night. He started awfully slow but Love regained form in the second half and was a big reason why the Wolves pulled ahead in the third and sealed the game well before the clock hit zero.

The starters were lethal offensively but struggled to contain Rudy Gay at the other end. Gay came up big dropping 24 points in an efficient performance (Shocker). And then Cousins and Isaiah Thomas both had themselves terrific second halves scoring wise. But the Kings, as they normally do, committed way too many turnovers, and when the Wolves are forcing their opponent’s hand with pressure on the perimeter, mistakes will be made. The Kings had 19 turnovers, while the Wolves capitalized by scoring 27 points off turnovers thanks to the leaking Corey Brewer and company.

The Wolves have delved into a different mode we’ve never really seen before. For the first time in years, they seemed to have figured out how to link consecutive, quality games by creating and staying true to their own special brand of basketball. Winning teams have recipes for their success; Pacers play suffocating defense; Heat play a well spaced-out floor on the offensive end; Lakers play the triangle (Well, not so much); Suns run a fast-paced game to keep the opponent on their heels all night. It’s still difficult to pin exactly what the Wolves have been able to do over this winning stretch because it’s not exactly consistent with what they’ve ever done under Rick Adelman before. But as long as Love keeps playing out of his mind, Brewer and Ricky Rubio provide steady, stout perimeter defense, Martin and Pekovic continue to be role scorers putting up anywhere from 16-24 per game each and the bench keeps up their hard-played minutes, I like our chances moving forward even if it will be a constant, difficult uphill climb until the end.

It’s an exciting brand of basketball the Wolves are playing, and it was certainly on display tonight in Sacramento. Now all that’s left to do is play consistently night-to-night and keep racking up the wins. Next up: The Nuggest in Denver on Monday night.