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Winning Ugly

First off, a victory dance:

Who here amongst us at the beginning of December--the last time the Wolves strung it up against the Clips--believed that Our Beloved Zombies would have won 8 out of their last 11 games and that we would be talking about how they pulled through against an inferior squad with an ugly win?  Think about that for a moment.  The last time the Wolves played the Clippers (on the 6th of December) Randy Wittman was coaching, Jason Collins was starting and Rashad McCants was pulling down 17 minutes off the bench.  For those of you who can't remember December, the Clips loss came on the heels of what I consider to be the most embarassing loss of the year outside of the Disaster in Dallas/Casey's Revenge: the 29 point loss to New Jersey:

As you can probably tell by the tone of this little post I'm somewhat frustrated with this team.  Actually, that's not completely true.  I am more frustrated with myself for playing the Charlie Brown to Papa Glen/the Iron Ranger's Lucy.  I bought what they were selling and I've been burned yet again.  The football has been pulled away and I should have been smart enough to see it coming.  I shouldn't have bought into the Love trade (even though I think he's a fantastic player) because it's just more of the same.  I shouldn't have talked myself into believing that this was anywhere near a 30 win squad because it's run by the same group of clowns who gave me 22 wins last year.  This is the most frustrating thing of all about being a Wolves fan: feeling stupid for believing it would be different if you gave them just one more go at it.  There's no direction.  There's no blueprint.  There's nothing but a bunch of jokers flying by the seats of their pants with zero accountability. 

So what if they fire Witt.  They'll still have McHale, super-wizz GM Rob Babcock--he of the Rafael Araujo at #8 fame-- and the can-someone-please-explain-how-he-is-qualified Fred Hoiberg waiting in the wings to blow even more draft picks and free agent money for a year where they'll be unable to land anyone but an overpaid and over-the-hill MLE player. 

I am in no way, shape, or form saying that I'm going to stop watching the team.  What I am saying is that there will be no more flailing at footballs.  This is a terrible team with terrible personnel built around a guy who can't play at one end of the court.  There's no way to dress this up.  Big Al may be a fantastic guy and a great member of the community but he's Zach Randolph with a brain and some class.  I feel like a heel for even entertaining the idea that he could be a cornerstone-type player.  He's the only decent piece the team received in the KG deal and this is what drives 90% of the fan allegiance to his game.  The KG deal with Boston probably only went through for 3 reasons: McHale's BFF is the Celts' GM and the trade allowed McHale to get a do-over on the pick owed in the Wally trade (they just had to have Marcus Banks, remember) as well as ensuring that the team would not immediately lose the 1st rounder owed to the Clips due to the Marko Jaric trade (which is still owed BTW).

OK, there may have been a bit of overreacting in that post, but please remember that this came from a guy who predicted that the squad would win 36 games with a much improved offense, free throw neutrality, Sebastian Telfair at the point, and Kevin Love opening things up for Big Al Jefferson.  You know, things that have happened over the last 10 or so games. This is the team I thought we were getting at the beginning of the year.  In early December, I thought I had fallen for the garbage once again.  I was upset with myself for believing my own lying eyes.  Now....not so much. 

This team is playing as well as I could have possibly expected at the beginning of the season.  There are a few problems (Corey Brewer's injury, McCants going crazy, and a few others) but this is how I thought things would play out since the opening tap against Sacramento: offensive zombie ball.  This team was dead in the water a month ago and here they are now....winning games they should have lost against massively inferior teams on the road.  It's almost enough to bring a tear to your eye. 

Against the Clips the Wolves were equaled on the boards (17-46) to (18-42).   They were nearly equaled from the floor (39-93) to (34-87) .  They were equaled from the line (12-15) to (12-17).  The Clips had their 3 best front court players out with injury.  Their most lethal front court offensive threat was the running hook of Brian frickin' Skinner.  Their top rebounders, scorers...hell, they suited up 8 reserves and a nice looking rookie in Eric Gordon. The Wolves forced a bunch of turnovers and they weren't quite as bad as the Clips from the field. 

Kevin Love had his worst game in quite some time, going up against the perimeter-oriented Steve Novak and putting up a team worst -16.  He still more than pulled his weight with the cliched "little things" but he was on the wrong end of a touch match up against a guy who could hit the three and keep him off the boards. 

Bench energizer Rodney Carney had his most putrid game in recent memory, going for only 5 points (and not much else) in 13 minutes.  Brian Cardinal...not so much. 

Even the Wolves' main man had something of a down day.  Big Al went 9-21 with none of his typical dipsy-do flavor; instead opting for simply putting his head down and going at the rim.

Thankfully, the Wolves were bailed out by solid guard play and early Rhino/late Ryan Gomes. Yes, I'm calling him the Rhino again after the Clipper game. 

Speaking of guard play, Randy Foye went for 17/4/3 while Bassy had one of the best 2-9 shooting, 6 point performances you will ever see.  Bassy controlled the tempo while making his two shots while they counted and Foye put the Wolves far enough ahead in the early going to let them walk away with the win.

As ugly as things got (and they did get UGLY; it was like a summer league game out there at times) the best thing I can say about the game is that the Wolves won by doing what they had to do to win.  They made the runs when they needed to; they sucked it up when they needed to; they got the ball where it needed to go when they needed to.  Even after they got out ahead of the Clips, it never felt like they'd blow the lead...even against the worst squad we've seen all year (and yes, this includes the Thunder).  As a fan, you felt confident watching this squad throughout the game no matter how sloppy they were playing. 

That being said, they have no such luxury tomorrow night in SLC.  The game against the Jazz is a test.  It's a test of resolve, personnel...well, you can throw in your own character trait.  The point here is that the game against the Jazz is no cake walk and if OBZs walk away with a victory, it will not only be the biggest victory of the year, but a clear sign of significant improvement....or, maybe it's just a sign that they're finally playing as well as they should have been playing from opening tap way back in October. 

PS: During the game cast J-Pete dropped OE + DE in a discussion about the relative importance of offense compared to defense in terms of the Wolves' success.  Hat's off to J-Pete.  Well played sir.  We appreciate your patronage.  ;)

PPS: Don't forget to vote in our "give Kevin Love a nickname" contest.

PPPS: Don't forget to buy awesomely discounted Wolves tickets here.

PPPPS: I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the free trial offer of NBA League Pass was not available on actual League Pass Broadband, but WAS available for free on Justin.TV.  Well played Turner Sports, well played.