THIS IS WHY YOU NEED TWO CENTERS: Timberwolves thrash Lakers 143-107

Follower screencapped me intently following my Twitter game.

Follower screencapped me intently following my Twitter game.

I don’t even know how to start this recap. I mean, how much is there really to talk about with a 36-point win. Really, the story of one quarter is the same as the next quarter, and the next quarter, and so on. We knew coming in the Timberwolves were the favorites, especially with Pau Gasol sitting out, and they backed that up. However, this doesn’t make for much of a story. Here were some follower ideas for a recap:

(Be glad I forgot about this idea. If I were to re-write this, I’d do this.)

 

 

Out of the gate, the Timberwolves set the tone with their frontcourt. Nikola Pekovic, playing his first game back after rehabbing his ankle bursitis, came out with 12 points in just 7:43 seconds of playing time on 4/4 shooting. Kevin Love did as well, with 12 points and five points, including 3/5 from three. Minnesota shot 65 percent, scored 41 points and held the Lakers to 24 points.

The throttling continued into the second when the Timberwolves padded their lead in part to a 12/19 shooting quarter, but also a five-minute scoreless stretch by Los Angeles. Things were so bad for the Lakers that Nick Young was their leading scorer with 11 points, but it took him nine shots to get there. Yet, the worst part was that I had Daily Dime duty and had to try to seem like an objective observer. But do you know how hard that is when the other team is so terrible?! I really was trying to be fair, but the only consolation I could find for the Lakers was that no one else got hurt.

You know the most exciting part of the third? Not even the fact that they scored 34 points in the quarter — just nine fewer than they had in the first half — but that their scoring was highlighted by Kent Bazemore’s 4/4 shooting. Yeah, that’s it. For the Timberwolves, Kevin Love notched his second career triple-double, and also became the first Timberwolf to do in under 30 minutes. To put it in simple terms: he was the Domino’s of gawdy stats. Or a better pizza place…either way; Love finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Perhaps the weirdest thing was the Timberwolves’ shaky bench not only holding a lead, but building on it. The Lakers porous defense and penchant for contested midrange jumpers on offense made it easy for the reserves to continue to push the lead into the 30′s and even 40′s. When it was all said and done, we witnessed history. The Timberwolves’ 143 points were a franchise record for points in a regulation game. On top of that their point total and shooting percentage (67) were the highest in the NBA all year.

After the game Adelman praised the team’s energy and felt everyone had a solid game, which is always a good thing. Really, this was the perfect way to follow-up Wednesday night’s blowout of the Hawks: with another blowout.

“Wait. I thought you capitalized the title for a reason, but you only mentioned one center? Do your job!” 

Easy. I was working towards that.

It’s been the latest #hotsportstake around these parts to talk about trading Pekovic in favor of starting Gorgui Dieng without really having any real reason whatsoever. I wrote about it on Monday for Hardwood Paroxysm, but can rehash my main points quickly: 1) Good teams have depth and now they do, so why not keep them; 2) Dieng and Pekovic are not redundant skill-wise, so why not keep them; 3) We haven’t seen nearly enough of Dieng to know that he can be consistent, but we know Pekovic will. Then there’s a fourth that Steve McPherson of A Wolf Among Wolves brought up, and that’s the fact that they will cost roughly $14 million dollars combined for the next three years; that’s a bargain.

Tonight we saw each player showcase their strengths. Dieng had 14 points, nine rebounds and a block. Yet, he had five fouls in 22 minutes because he struggled at times to get in the right position. Pekovic on the other hand finished with 26 points on 9/10 shooting and three rebounds. In almost exactly the same amount of time he finished with two fewer fouls. The two players scored in their different ways– Pekovic with his brute strength and Dieng by taking advantage of easy looks.

The Timberwolves are undoubtedly better with both players, and again, no one is making them choose between them! I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been subjected to so many terrible teams and we’re just not used to having nice things, but this is what good teams have. Playoff teams need depth, and while they may not be one this year, they will have the postseason as a goal next season. This is literally what the team has been searching for as long as I can remember and now they have it, so they’re not going to break that up.

While Pekovic may deal with his nagging injuries, it’s nice to know that Dieng could be a reliable spot starter in that event. That way a guy like Ronny Turiaf is now your third center, but also a viable backup for a few games. See, this is how injuries don’t derail your season. It’s awful, I know, having two good players, but we’ll just have to make the best of it.

“I think his experience, playing, it’s going to help him,” said Adelman after the game. “I think he has some confidence and the guys are getting more confident that they can throw him the ball at the basket and he’s going to make it.”

From the sounds of it, Adelman is also okay with having two good players at the same position. This should go without saying, but it gives a coach options and avoids any drop-off at the position when one goes to the bench. When you can alternate between two players who are efficient, can rebound and play proficient defense in their own way, you are in an advantageous position.

Anyway, why don’t I touch on some other things.

- Shabazz Muhammad didn’t check in until the game was well within hand with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but when he did he played well. Muhammad went 4/4 from the floor for nine points, and scored from all areas of the floor including three; the midrange; and even a Dwyane Wade-esque tear-drop floater while driving baseline. Some lamented his late check-in to the game, but it really didn’t matter when Adelman put him in.

- The Timberwolves committed 21 turnovers to the Lakers’ eight, but won by 36. This is atypical of a team in this game but they made up for it by dominating the second-chance and points in the paint battles.

- There were zero lead changes. The Lakers’ biggest lead was…zero. Conversely, the Timberwolves’ was 41. Tonight’s only tie was at tip-off when it was 0-0. Yeah, the Lakers are bad.

- Tangent: All of this talk about the Timberwolves having to prove to Love that this will be the best shot at his long-term success, but nothing about the Lakers having to prove that they will be good again any time soon? Obviously acquiring Love would speed up that process, but they need more pieces to go with him still. Yeah, his parents and girlfriend live there, and he went to school there, so there are ties, but you would think that this has to come up. Also, “But the Lakers always find a way!” is not a real argument; it’s a seven-word revisionist history on the Lakers’ track record.

- Ricky Rubio’s steal tonight was his 175th of the season, tying Ty Corbin’s record set in the ’89-’90 season.

- If you don’t high-five kids when you come out of the tunnel, you’re a terrible person. Also if you don’t share the media room M&M’s.

Frequently Asked Questions: Timberwolves fall to Lakers 104-91

I’m tired, I won’t lie, so I have no idea where this recap is going to go. If there is any way for me to get this up in a timely manner, it’s going to be now. I apologize; this is not the recap you need or really deserve. Though if you’ve clicked the link you probably do need the recap, so this will be better than nothing.

This wound up not being  a very fun game to watch, especially for bed. In the NBA you never assume that one team is going to run away with the game, but given how short-handed they were I think a lot of people expected the Timberwolves to come away with victory here. They were down Kobe Bryant (HAVE YOU HEARD?!), Steves Blake and Nash, and Jordan Farmar as well. That’s a whole lotta, “Welp, crap.” to deal with, but the Lakers made due anyway. On the other hand, the Timberwolves were coming off of some rest time and were mostly healthy.

So, why didn’t they win? Was it just one of those games? It really could have been, but this team is perplexingly inconsistent: beat Memphis, lose to Boston, beat Portland, lose to the Lakers. Are they just rising up to the occasion against better teams and playing down to others? I don’t think so. They’ve handily beaten Boston and Oklahoma City and then lost to them the next time around.

Is it the way the roster is constructed? Maybe the current parts, namely the bench, don’t make sense. Perhaps not getting more from Alexey Shved and Shabazz Muhammad has hurt them on top of Chase Budinger’s absence. At the time these were pieces that you looked at and thought if they could get anything the team could have depth, but now feel more empty than expected.Did having Luke Ridnour cover up for some of JJ Barea’s deficiencies the last two years? Dante Cunningham is now the best scorer of the front court reserves, which is fine as long as the team runs the offense through Love when it matters most, unlike tonight.

The Timberwolves can score since they are currently third in the league in points per game, but they are near the bottom of the league in field goal percentage, two point and three point percentage; they also play at the third fastest pace in the league. Only six, seven if you count Gorgui Dieng, players on the roster are currently shooting above 40 percent from the field. The list of players sub-40 percent shooters is: Ricky Rubio, Robbie Hummel, JJ Barea, Alexey Shved, Ronny Turiaf, AJ Price and Shabazz Muhammad.

I only bring this up because no other Timberwolves scored in double figures besides Love, Pekovic and Martin– the usual suspects. Cunningham is just below .448 percent on the year and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is at .485, but it’s not as if LRMAM is a sustainable source of offense. This isn’t a new question, but this bench is definitely a concern for  a team with serious playoff aspirations.

At 13-14, the Timberwolves are far from hapless, but at 27 games you wonder how much of the true nature of the team you are seeing and how much room they have to grow. 56 games is still a lot of games, but some of the things that we were seeing or were hoping to see have begun to fade. And that could just be from the nature of the ebbs and flows of the season, but for a team with playoff aspirations, not being able to defend or shoot efficiently is a problem. Or this is just impatience showing through, and I’m just fucking tired and everything is fine because we’re just 27 games in. Then I look at a team like the Lakers and their circumstances and wonder how they’ve managed to exceed their expectations. Maybe our expectations and predictions don’t mean anything and they just make more sense together. Rather, what if they complement each other better as a team versus just having a few players complement each other well.

Whatever. I might be stupid, I might be onto something or on something (I’m not on something, FYI.) At this point in the season we may have expected to have more questions answered, even though it doesn’t feel this way. This was a game of runs, but ultimately a game that should have been won. The momentum was there when they took the lead at the end of the first half, but let it slip early in the first, and spent the rest of the game see-sawing before letting it ultimately get away.

Yeah, 27 games might be too soon, or not; I don’t know. Here are some coherent notes:

- Kevin Love had 25 points and 13 rebounds, but it was a disappointing finish considering that he had 20 at the half. To be fair, the Lakers did a good job forcing the offense away from him in the second half.

- Nikola Pekovic had 22 points and 13 rebounds himself. Of those 13 rebounds, 10 were offensive and he also went 8-12 from the line. That is a lot of offensive rebounds.

- Pau Gasol was on triple double watch for the Lakers finishing with 21 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Xavier Henry added 22 points and Nick Young added 25, including a big three at the end.

- How you lose after forcing 19 turnovers and getting 23 points off of those turnovers is a little beyond me. Kind of what happens when you lapse on the transition defense early and giveaway easy points you don’t need to. That wasn’t all of it, but it was part of it, and I’m tired.

Timberwolves-Lakers Preview: WHY WON’T YOU DIE?!

I should clarify something: I don’t actually want anyone to die. It’s just that this Lakers team on paper looks like a team that should be among the dregs of the league, but they not — and games aren’t played on paper — and the Lakers are somehow 3-4 and hanging around in the middle of the Pacific division standings. This team was supposed to have lost too much in the offseason without bringing enough back in, and to top it off they’re doing this all without Kobe Bryant.

They are quite the puzzling team in that we don’t really even know what to make of them. Through seven games we’ve seen them blown out and we’ve seen them blowout or steal wins from some good teams.

Here is a list of things this Lakers team hasn’t been very good at: making shots within the arc, making free throws and forcing turnovers. But they have been the league’s ninth-best three point shooting team and fourth-best defensive rebounding team which has kept them competitive throughout the early stages of the season. When you rebound well defensively you eliminate second chance point opportunities and are able to control the pace of the game. Coupled with strong three point shooting, you’re making high value shots while eliminating a way for your opponents to get second chance points– a dangerous combination on any given night.

This is what 3-4 looks like: boom or bust.

This is what 3-4 looks like: boom or bust.

The Timberwolves have not been a great defensive rebounding team so far this season, but they’ve been about an average offensive rebounding team this season and will need to continue to do that tonight. Additionally, even though the Lakers have shot the ball well from distance, the Timberwolves have forced opponent’s to shoot the three at the ninth worst efficiency in the league. In doing so, the Timberwolves will ideally be able to force one of the league’s worst offensive rebounding teams to step up or allow their opponent to control the game.

Minnesota also loves to force turnovers while Los Angeles really hasn’t so far. The Timberwolves are the fifth best team in forced turnovers percentage and the Lakers are the third worst, coming at 27th. While the Lakers have been good at avoiding turnovers, they will be tested by the Timberwolves’ defense and could present an opportunity for the visitors to come away with a victory in game one of this back-to-back.

 

Then there is this subplot bubbling below the surface of this game. Yes, the last time the Timberwolves beat the Lakers at all I was a senior in high school and the last time they beat them at Staples Center I was but a sophomore. That’s a really long time, so it’s understandable that a lot of fans are going to be watching tonight to see if the drought ends tonight. Sure, there have been some blowouts and some close games in this 22 game losing streak, but the Lakers were almost always the better team.

Yet, now things are a little different right now. The Lakers are in a weird place between competing for a playoff spot and rebuilding. I liken it to denial and like to think of their roster as Mitch Kupchak saying, “Rebuilding? No. Yeah, we lost Dwight Howard, but we got Chris Kaman and Nick Young is going to be a steal. Oh, and Wes Johnson is just about to get it, just you wait.” Basically, Kupchak is building a clear bridge to nowhere while telling us that we’re going somewhere. For the Timberwolves, as long as they can extract useful contributions from their bench on at least a semi-regular basis, they’re going somewhere and the Lakers won’t be there. I don’t mean the lottery, either.

Of course, beating the Lakers tonight at this stage in the season doesn’t actually mean anything in the grand scheme of things. However, to a group of people looking to overcome years of futility against the same franchise, this means something. It’s no longer a relevant footnote and a weight to be lifted off of their back. So, it means something without actually meaning something. Make sense? It might be more fun to beat a stronger previous incarnation of the Lakers, but at this point we’ll just take what we can get.

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

When: 6:30 pm CST

See/Hear it: FSN and WCCO AM 830