The Timberwolves are at least still winning the games they should (minus, perhaps, a rather ugly OT loss to the maligned Bobcats...) The Wizards came into tonight's tilt at 10-26, with 18 straight losses on the road this season by an average of 14 points. They haven't won a road game all season. They were really asking to be beat in a way, and the Wolves beat them.
Without Beasley, the Wolves really needed a couple players to step up. Kevin Love brought his game, like he has pretty much every night this season. Who would help him out in B-Easy's absence? Well, it came from a couple of unexpected sources tonight....Corey Brewer and Darko Milicic....but they'll take it. Things like that are just the nature of rebuilding ballclubs.
Tonight's tilt was an interesting case study in rebuilding directions. On one street, you have the Wolves, who have implemented a system in concrete but are struggling to find the right talent to play it. On the other street, the Wizards have amassed a huge amount of talent but can't get any of it to fit together.
The Wolves tonight did a number of rather surprising things to secure a victory: they ended the game on the right side of the assists, turnovers, and fouls battle, and closed out the fourth quarter strong. Midway through the fourth, the Wizards went on a mini-run to take a 94-90 lead. That's usually when the Wolves fall apart with a string of bad shots and unforced turnovers. Tonight, not so. Instead the Wolves got down to business: over the next 2 minutes of the game, the Wolves got a crazy behind-the-back dribble layup from Darko, followed by a three from Love to take the lead again. Then a perfectly executed fastbreak to get Darko a power dunk, another perfectly executed halfcourt set (possibly the single best Wolves possession of the entire season) for an Ellington three, then another transition three from Love to effectively put the game away.
During that same span, the Wizards managed just a single point....a JaVale McGee free throw. Otherwise they looked...well....Wolfish, with a string of turnovers, fouls and bad shot selection. Over the last 6 minutes of the game, the Wolves outscored the Wizards 19-3.
This really was an absolute must-win for the Wolves, facing a team just as bad as themselves in a situation where they were almost pre-destined to lose from the beginning. The Wolves need to, at a minimum, keep pace with the Wizards and Nets and Pistons and Raptors in that half-step above outright disaster that the Kings and Cavaliers reside in. The win tonight puts some distance between us and Sacramento again, which is faint praise but a step in the right direction nonetheless.
And I'm not going to make a case for which path is the right path rebuilding teams should take. There's so many individual things that come into play, with personalities, coaches, location, and sheer luck (hello, Clippers) to say there's any one blueprint everyone should follow. But for tonight, Washington is very much in "talent collection" mode. Their lack of cohesiveness is something to be expected from a team just grabbing players left and right without any thought to how they will (or won't) complement each other. If the Wolves are going to take the system path and stress the chemistry side of things, then they should win these games. They should out-execute opponents in close-game situations when facing a team that doesn't have a guiding strategy or any appreciable intangibles. This was a situation the Wolves should have been able to take advantage of, so it's nice to see that they actually did.
- Speaking of the Clippers, did anyone notice they beat Miami last night? I know a lot of fans here were upset when they blew us out, but I really think we're fooling ourselves if we think we're at the same level they are. Blake Griffin is a legit franchise-level player, and Eric Gordon's a go-to scorer as well. And again, when Baron Davis plays to his potential, he's still one of the best point guards out there.
- And yes, they got lucky. Say what you want about them picking Eric Gordon 7th or DeAndre Jordan in the second round - you look at who owns the team, their history of coaches and GMs, and all the nonsense that goes on with them in free agency...they can't be described as anything but lucky.
- Anyway, back to the Wolves, Corey Brewer had himself a really good night. He scored, rebounded, took care of the ball, and played some outstanding defense. I was pretty worried about Nick Young headed into this one...when he starts scoring, he really puts up huge numbers. But Corey set an early tone on him and kept at it all night when he was one the floor, and it ended up being pretty important in the long run.
- Like I said in the game thread, you really have to credit Wayne Ellington for his performance. He hadn't played in two weeks and seemingly got put in the dog house. But he stayed pro, practiced hard, and it paid off tonight when he got another chance: 11 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists off the bench. It's hard to overstate enough the importance of a player who will work hard rain or shine and thinks about the team first. Ellington is the anti-McCants.
- I definitely agree with S-n-P about Webster. Very intriguing player. And definitely a player who seems like he's still a half-step off in the finishing department....he makes a lot of great moves to get open looks or draw foul situations, but misses capitalizing on them by a heartbeat most of the time.
- Kevin Love: 35-11-4. Again, it's incredible how ordinary that seems.
- I don't know what to do about Pekovic or Flynn. Rambis likes to run them out with Webster and Tolliver with a not-completely-unrealistic expectation that they'll put some points on the board, but it's not happening. Flynn is a step behind physically and about ten steps behind mentally, and Pekovic continues to commit fouls and turnovers at an absurd rate and isn't doing anything to make it worth it. They both just seem to be getting more and more lost as the season goes on.
- Flynn, however, I think might be in for a lot of bench time. He and Rambis do not get along at all, and Kurt conversely is a big fan of Bassy. That leads one to believe all this is trying to showcase Flynn for a trade (if so, it's not working...) and if one can't be found by next month, Jonny's out and Sebastian is back in. That's my prediction.
- For the Wizards, they have a major roster imbalance problem. Not unlike the Wolves, in fact. Overloaded with small forwards and power forwards, short on shooting guards and centers. With Andray Blatche out and McGee getting into first-half foul trouble, the Wizards ended up fielding Yi Jianlian at center tonight which.....well, didn't work out very well for them.
- I'm a huge fan of McGee's, by the way. I'd love it if the Wolves could pick him up. I don't know if he's still untouchable or not for the Wizards (he should be, if they're smart) but he and Tyrus Thomas top my big man trade wish list.
- It was really disconcerting to see a Flip Saunders team look so out of sync. Saunders is one of the most meticulous coaches I've ever seen....up there with Nate McMillan, Avery Johnson, and Jerry Sloan....and he has a playbook a mile-and-a-half thick. Fast and freelance is everything he tries not to be as a coach, but that's pretty much all the Wizards have been this season.
- John Wall is operating pretty much purely on physical talent right now. His understanding of being a points guard...or basketball in generally, really....doesn't extend very much beyond 'run really fast' and 'pass out of double teams'. However, he does those two things exceptionally well, and overall I see more potential in him as a player than I did in Derrick Rose or do in Tyreke Evans.
Wolves are at home again Saturday against the Orlando Magic, who are 9-2 since the trades for Turkoglu, Richardson and Arenas. So.....ya....7:00 PM. Don't miss it.