Timberwolves bow slowly, deeply

Categories: Sports
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Photo by Churl

If, as we are blessed with 65 degree days and the impending playoff season and indoor baseball and feelings of great, wondrous hope, you are still watching the Timberwolves...well I don't even know what to say to you. You love basketball. You are amazing. You might also be wondering what the hell is happening. How did the Wolves score only eight points in the first quarter against the Phoenix Suns, a team with nothing to play for, a team that basically begs its opponent to score? And how, then, did those same Wolves very nearly beat the Mavs, a team desperate for victories, just two games later? What does this mean?

I will tell you. Do you remember Chuck Person raining threes? Ty Corbin ringing up a triple-double? Tony Campbell averaging 23.2 points/game? Randy Breuer's hairy, hairy shoulders? Scot Roth doing anything? Does this revery arouse familiar feelings of deep, haphazard irrelevence? Well, this is kind of like that.

Here's what the April, 2009 version of the Wolves' catalog of mixed blessings and unsustainable good fortune looks like:

--That close Mavericks loss was probably the kind of game that Mike Miller envisions for himself every time out. Perfectly playing the role of the sublimely battered warrior, Miller fought for rebounds, threaded gorgeous passes to his cutting teammates and nailed that perfectly balanced three point shot, the kind of shot where the ball itself seems to possess a kind of will, actually seems intent on going in the basket. Miller hit four of five threes and collected 10 tough boards and nine assists. I swear, it should've been like this every game.

--Brian Cardinal reprised his role as the subtly smirking, deeply aggravating provocateur. He badgered Dirk Nowitzki all game with relentless physical contact mingled with subtle cheap shots; for a while Dirk was frazzled and off his game. For this reason, despite his lack of athleticism, Cardinal was the only Wolf who seemed capable of taking the great Deutscher out of his rhythm. Ultimately it didn't work--Dirk finished with 34 points on 19 shots and some stretches of nearly perfect offensive basketball. This, I guess, was the point--nobody on this team can guard him.

--Craig Smith, the strangest, least symmetric piece of the Wolves' puzzle also had one of his best games of the year.  Smith looks and acts the part of the macho bruiser. During games he sports a vintage Ice Cube scowl (oh my god, and look at this one); he has large muscles that he really likes to flex; whenever he does anything on the court he lets out a tortured, steroidal bellow. But his actual game doesn't really fit the type. He is usually a huge defensive liability (this largely has to do with the fact that he is a few inches shorter than almost every other power forward in the league--but he also shows a strange lack of defensive instinct and aggression) and he's a below average rebounder (ditto).

He earned the nickname 'The Rhino' with his hardheaded (and basically blind) charges at the rim but those drives usually end with one of Smith's barely believable finishing moves: an array of impossibly high bank shots, no-angle finger-rolls and no jumping floaters. And, somehow, he makes those ridiculous shots 56% of the time. Basically, weirdly, Smith is a finesse player. Against Dallas, he scored 24 points on 10-13 shooting. It was a perfect Craig Smith situation; he was matched up defensively against the Mavs' basically unthreatening Brandon Bass and James Singleton and was able to show off his full, ridiculous arsenal. He split double teams, he hit layups over much taller defenders without really jumping, he Dream Shook (that's not Craig, fyi),  he bellowed up a storm.

-- Kevin Love did his normal comprehensive rebounding work but, as is typical since Al Jefferson blew out his knee and Love became the Wolves' center, he was at a huge size disadvantage against his opposite number. Though he's not really known as an offensive force, Dallas's Erick Dampier, like four inches taller and lots of pounds heavier than K-Love, did pretty much whatever he wanted. This, combined, with Cardinal's dirty deeds and Smith's nearly perfect offensive game conspired to keep Love on the bench for most of the fourth quarter.

--And then there was the simple fact that these inexperienced, undermanned players just don't quite know what to do when, late in games, their opponent turns up the defensive heat and the refs swallow their whistles. Worse, perhaps, they don't know how to turn up that heat themselves. As is fairly common, when it came right down to it, the Wolves just weren't able to execute their offense; their only scoring play in the last 2:54 was a flukey pass that deflected off of two Dallas players and into Smith's wide open arms.

The Wolves' last two meaningful possession were turnovers by Ryan Gomes and Sebastian Telfair, who (Bassie) unwisely attempted to lace an interior bounce pass through a wash of arms. Whereas: the last two Maverick possessions were a gorgeous spinning drive by Nowitzki and a Jason Terry's gamewinning jumper, which Bassie couldn't quite gather the resolve or discipline to contest. When people say that a team "doesn't know how to win," this is exactly what they mean. 

What I'm saying is, almost every Wolves' positive you can think of--Miller's all-around game, Love's epochal rebounding, Cardinal's magnificent bastardry, Smith's counter-intuituve offensive touch, Bassie's emotive handle--are laced with some cloudy lining, something that deeply comprimises even their best efforts.

In other words: in what must come as a huge surprise to you seasoned, weary Wolves fans, as NBA basketball teams go, our Wolves are just not very good. More than anything, the team just needs bigger, more athletic, more highly skilled, in other words better players. Wow, the revelations just keep coming.   

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