Having already lost two games to the Wolves in the month of December, if there was one thing to be certain about in last night's tilt between Utah and Minny, it was that the Jazz would come out strong and the Wolves couldn't afford to play with anything but maximum energy.
I can't tell you how long it has been since I have watched a Wolves game where you a) knew that the other team was going to give it their all and b) that the Wolves would answer the opening bell. Granted, this is the sort of thing that you take for granted on a winning squad, but with Our Beloved Puppies, it's been a long, long time since they responded to the kicked down door with their hands on the trigger of their gun instead of on their heads.
One of the most encouraging things about the Wolves' recent play is the accompanying quotes about working hard and not viewing 2 wins in a row as meaning anything other than having to return to practice the next day. While they didn't win the game, the Wolves didn't get blown off the court by a team that had every reason in the world to come out an destroy them. This is a minor, but noted (by this fan, at least), accomplishment. Now, if only they could bring that Brixton attitude to the start of the 2nd half...then they'd be on to something.
Getting around to the actual game, this one is pretty easy to explain:
Take a look at the FT/FG number. Pretty good right? Well, the Wolves ended up going 16-26 from the charity stripe compared to 16-22 for the Jazz. Did free throw shooting do in the good guys? Considering they just lost to the Spurs while going 23-25 from the line, perhaps tonight was just an example of the team returning to their average level of performance. It's not like the Wolves were operating out of the bounds of what they normally experience at the line. On average, they give up 24.9 FTA/game (giving up 18.8 makes) while taking 22.6 (and making 16.4). Yeah, they didn't make a good percentage, but they made as many as they normally make while giving up less than they normally give up. Whatever it was, the free throws were well within the normal boundaries of what we typically see with the squad and the Wolves didn't lose the game because they couldn't hit their free throws. They lost because of the crooked number to the right of the FT/FG: they gave up a ridiculous amount of offensive rebounds.
The Wolves give up an average of 11.4 offensive rebounds/game. Last night against the Jazz they gave up 14. This led to an obscene amount of 2nd chance points and 40 shots taken at the rim or within 10 feet of the bucket. On the other side of the coin, the Wolves average 12.3 offensive rebounds/game. Last night against the Jazz they collected 8. This is where the script was flipped and the game was lost. The Wolves need to own the offensive glass, especially on nights when they shoot well and get to the line more than their opponent. This game was theirs to be had if they simply were able to do the one thing they typically do well: control the offensive glass on both ends of the court.
Since we're on the topic of offensive rebounds, it would be ridiculous to not talk about the Big Piranha, Kevin Love. Last night the guy grabbed 1/2 of his team's offensive rebounds while ending up one assist shy of netting the Wolves' first triple-double since Kevin Garnett. Love played a magnificent 4th quarter where he showed that he is capable of having the offense run exclusively through him. Let's go back to something i wrote during camp:
Kevin Love also looks like a new man. He hit a few mid-range jumpers as well as a nice corner three. As always, he controled the boards and he appears to have focused on defense over the summer. As many of you already know, I'm pretty high on Love and I think he has the potential to be something of an evolutionary player at the 4/5. With his combination of ball skills, shooting touch, and rebounding, I think he has the rare opportunity to be something we don't often see in the NBA: an upper level role player who is effectively unguardable while operating in the gaps of the offense. I honestly think he sees an All Star game before Al Jefferson. Scrapping, getting opponents out of position, crashing the boards, keeping possessions alive; Love is going to dominate these aspects of the game and the better the Wolves get, the more these things are going to be apparent and matter.
Is it possible that Love is something more than a guy who can operate within the gaps of an offense? Can he be some sort of mutant cross between Vlade Divac, Bill Walton, and Wes Unseld? Is his ceiling more than Brad Miller + ridiculous rebounding? I don't know. What I do know is that it's getting harder and harder to ignore just how far and away better he is than anyone else on the roster. If he's hitting threes and dishing out assists all over the court (3 at the rim, 2 within 10 feet, and 4 between 16-23 feet), and he continues to rebound, and he continues to show that he can put the ball on the floor if need be, and if the Wolves surround him with some legit wing talent, I think the gap between he and Al Jefferson will become even more pronounced and the conversation about whether or not he is Brad Miller+ or something else (i.e. more) will become the front and center issue concerning the Big Piranha. Keep in mind that we're talking about a 21 year old front court player with less than 50 games started. (BTW: Hats off to devilzsidewalk for his sponsorship of Basketball Reference's Kevin Love page.)
OK, quick subject change:
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -Former Minnesota basketball coach Clem Haskins made his first appearance at Williams Arena since resigning after a massive academic fraud scandal in 1999.
It appears all has been forgotten.
Haskins was in attendance Tuesday night for a celebration of the 1989-90 team he led to the NCAA tournament regional finals. The crowd gave him a thunderous standing ovation after his name was announced.
Haskins' former players pulled him from the stands onto the court and surrounded him with a group hug as the ovation continued.
Haskins coached the Gophers for 13 seasons, leading them to the Final Four in 1997. That run was wiped from the record books after the Gophers were implicated in the academic fraud scandal that also caused the NCAA to banish Haskins from coaching.
That's enough for now. Have a happy New Year.