The LA Lakers entered the game against Our Beloved Puppies with a 1-7 record away from Staples Center. They were playing on the 2nd night of a back-to-back after losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in a tilt where Kobe Bean Bryant played 42 minutes on a pair of knees that is approaching 50,000 minutes of regular season, playoff, and Olympic wear and tear.
Our Beloved Puppies were coming off of a 2 game winning streak against teams who have given them fits over the past 5-7 years (and, let's face it, long before that) and were in a position to reach .500 after the New Year for the first time since Dwane Casey led the team to a 20-20 record on the night of January 22, 2007.
The starting lineup for that Minny squad over 5 years ago was Kevin Garnett, Ricky Davis, Trenton Hassell, Mark Blount, and Mike James. Randy Foye and Craig Smith were the top reserves. Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur, Derrick Fisher, and Carlos Boozer led the Jazz to the 106-91 victory that sent the up-and-down Wolves on a decidedly down downturn and...well, you know the rest.
One of the worst things in all of the NBA is watching your favorite team play a home game against the Lakers only to see a bunch of kids in new purple Laker jerseys and unbent Laker ballcaps root for Kobe Bean Bryant and his squad of goons. In the post-KG era this spectacle has become even more notorious at 600 First Avenue, as the Wolves have rarely been something to root about. Also, what kind of douche-nozzle stands up and yells "all damn day!" over and over again every time Kobe scores a bucket? These are the type of people attracted by the Laker machine, even in its obvious decline.
All of that could have been flipped on its head in a single night. Ending the Lakers' 15 game win streak against the Wolves, getting back to .500 after the New Year for the first time since Casey, winning a game against a team that really isn't better than the good guys (and who were on the tail end of a back to back on the road...where they are terrible), getting revenge for the two guys who were laid out by Andrew Bynum last season (JJ Barea and Michael Beasley), getting to watch all of the spoiled Wayzetta and North Branch teenagers in fresh Laker gear having to walk back to the parking lot in shame while you head out for some celebration and an adult beverage.
The list goes on and on.
I try to focus the majority of the talk on this site on things that can be measured. I like to focus on large sample sizes, detached analysis, the goofiness of this particular roster, the folk hero potential of guys like Pek and Rubio, and so on and so forth. I'm also a big fan of mindfulness and karma and if there is one way to get me to forget about the stat sheet, it is to talk about what a game really means.
This game could have been a huge statement. Not to the Lakers, but about the Wolves. It could have been one of those moments where the knowledge of all the team's past trials could have enabled the franchise and its fanbase to realize that they are much further along on the path to end their suffering than anyone had really known. It was a reachable point in both time and space, and they missed it.
In front of them lay wounded a team that has caused the city, the franchise, the players, and its fans so much (it's still entertainment, I know) harm over the years. They employ Josh McRoberts and Metta World Peace. Their starting backcourt has been in the league for a combined 30+ years. They are awful on the road and they were playing on the 2nd night of a back to back. It was all there for the taking.
Instead, the good guys came out cold and quickly fell behind 11-3.
In the 2nd quarter, their superior bench couldn't take advantage of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol heading to the bench and they played Even Steven with Andrew Goudelock, Matt Barnes, and the previously mentioned McBob.
I'm not even going to bother with the 2nd half and its meaningless run (after more listless action in the 3rd). The game was lost in the opening moments and in the failure of the Wolves to seize the very seizable moment. On a night where they out-rebounded the opponent on the offensive glass by 17, turned the ball over only twice, matched the Lakers with free throw attempts, and took an astounding 25 more shots than the woeful LA squad, Our Beloved Puppies lost because they could not hit the broad side of a barn.
This was only the 4th game in franchise history where Minny managed over 100 FGA with sub .385 shooting from the floor and sub .240 from beyond the arc, and one of these games was an OT contest.
Despite what your memory may tell you about Kobe Bean Bryant's late-game "heroics", Mike Brown and the Lakers did their damnedest to hand this game to the Wolves. It was obvious from very early on that Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum could get whatever they wanted whenever they wanted against the Kevin Love/Nikola Pekovic front line. Instead of sticking with this very clear strategy (Mike Brown has recently stated that he wants to move Pau around throughout the game to keep opponents "guessing"), the Lakers saw Kobe jack up nearly 30 shots for his 35 points. On a night where Pau had 28 points on 15 shots and Bynum 21 on 14 and when the Wolves had no option but to run out the stick figure Anthony Randolph against the titan Bynum....well, again, it's pretty hard to think of a way that the Lakers could have played this that would have made it harder for the Wolves to climb back into things, even on a terrible shooting night.
Yet, there they were.
This team is close. It is often close in spite of itself. It is fun and exciting and goofy and weird, and even David Kahn has his place as a misfit on the island.
That being said, at some point in time the squad has to carry that ethic to the next step. It can still be all of those things, but if there is one thing I do not want to see with this particular club, it is for it to fall into the "They do it the right way/they tried hard/they're really neat/cute/whatever" description that has plagued Minnesota sports for the longest time. They can be entertaining and weird and still be winners. They can be folk heros while still being badasses. They can play on FSN without soliciting the typical FSN homer coverage.
You get the picture.
This was a moment to be had. There will be more moments but this one was theirs and it could have meant a lot...a whole lot.
Now that the moment has passed, and now that we are mindful of what it could have meant, it is time to let it go. The island of misfit toys moves along once again.