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The linear brand of basketball

The Timberwolves drop one to the Nuggets when they forget to be creative

Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

One particular play pretty much epitomized tonight's tilt.

Kevin Love set a screen for Kirilenko, then rolled baseline to the hoop while AK drifted with the ball to the elbow, looking for the teammate that would be left open when the Nuggets doubled Love to deny him the ball. He didn't find one.

So Andrei starts moving to the top of the arc, and as he does so, he notices Love is moving to be directly under the hoop. Throwing a distracting glace at Barea in the corner, Kirilenko...facing backwards and moving away from Love...proceeds to loft a pass over the head of his defender and drop it directly between the two defenders on Knuckles, right into his hands.

I was giddy over the perfect spontaneity of the play.

I didn't see any more of them the rest of the night.

Imagine my surprise as I walked into Target Center tonight to see Kevin Love warming up on the court. Happy joy. But the night turned out to be anything but a festival for him. He most certainly did his damage....34 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists....but he spent most of the night alternating between frustration at the wrist guard that was clearly bothering his shot (he spent basically every whistle trying to flex his wrist) and frustration at the way the game turned sour in the second half. Kenneth Faried was in high gear. The team kept making silly turnovers and missing shots. The ref made/missed some genuinely baffling calls/non-calls. Us in attendance didn't see exactly what Love got t'd up for, but it was apparently a big deal to him because he nearly got thrown out after he kept yapping at the Nuggets even after he picked up the technical. Johnson announced the technical and Malcolm Lee still had to get between Love and Kosta Koufos to get him to calm down.

But most disappointing, the Wolves essentially lost this one because they fell back into the typical brand of basketball....last year's brand. Bring the ball up. Set a screen. Pass into the post. Pass back out of the post. Pass back into the post. On and on and on until someone decides to jack up what was usually a bad-angle, contested jumper, then Love goes and gets beaten on as he fights for an offensive rebound. Over and over and over. No off-the-ball movement, no slick passes, no attacking the defense. Just 'basketball as usual'. Bland. Predictable. Ineffective. It's the "Hi, what's your name do you live around here where do you work that's cool how long you been there do you like it nice talking to you" of the hardwood.

Several times tonight, I noticed in an obvious way that the Wolves would to 2, 3, 4 possessions at a time with only 2 or 3 of the guys actually touching the ball. It was not good. Kirilenko was the biggest victim of this, which is the opposite of what this team needs to do to win....AK with the ball is something no defense can ever plan for. He sees things no one else sees and can create plays no one else can create, that basically no one on the other team can stop. Taking him out of the equation....intentionally, no really just wasting one of the best, if not the best, weapon the team has. That's what the Jazz did, when they stopped blitzing and played the ho-hum 2-man game of Williams and Boozer.

Ultimately, in a big, broad, unfortunate sense, the Wolves played this game like Pat Riley's Heat, rather than Mike D'Antoni's Suns. When you're built to play Euro-ball, and instead you play Grizzlie-ball, you're going to lose. You're shelving your advantages of range and creativity and trying to win with your weaknesses of size and power. It won't work. Remember, Wolves, you have an unorthodox roster. You're an unorthodox team. You have to play unorthodox basketball. Lindbergh Leans are for Memphis. Stick to Blorgon patrol.

The bullets:

  • It was absolutely fantastic to see Kevin Love on the floor, and he had a monsterous night. And did it all while pretty clearly still favoring his hand. There were a couple plays he had that defied logic...he scored two of his points banking off the glass while falling backwards and basically pushing the ball backhanded away from his face. 34-14-2 with iffy conditioning and his shooting hand in what amounted to a cast.
  • That said, he spent most of the night in a very not-good mood, and it wasn't just the T. Kenneth Faried was given one mission and one mission only tonight: make Kevin Love's night as difficult as possible. Mission accomplished. There aren't many players in the NBA that exceed Love's activity level in the paint and on the glass, but Faried is one of them. He knows how to be obnoxious to the guy he's up against and put it to good use.
  • Malcolm Lee played a lot, and I'm glad brought it up in the crowdsource 'cap, because his take is pretty much right. Adelman put Shved on Iguodala for a couple minutes in the second quarter, and Alexey got shell shocked. Like Randy Foye guarding Russell Westbrook shell shocked. It wasn't that Iggy dropped a ton of points on him or anything...he just bullied him. Shved tried to body AI2 early and more or less got run over, and by the end of it you could see on his face and in his body language that he was completely intimidated. Iggy is a big, strong, athletic, bullish player. A guy who weighs 170 lbs and plays a finesse game is his 2pm snack.
  • In terms of just sheer athleticism, Malcolm Lee is as good as just about any 2 guard in the league right now. He's quick, springy, strong, and decisive, and has an amazing ability to get the ball to wherever he wants it to be. But then it falls apart on him. Hopefully that improves, because even if his outside shot never falls consistently, if he could convert even half the spectacular drives he makes to the hoop, he's a guy who fights for a starting spot on 2/3rds of the teams in the NBA.
  • Pekovic gave it a great go tonight, but his ankle is still clearly not 100%. Several times he found himself getting pushed out of position or forced away from the hoop on his rolls. For a guy who doesn't have any ups, immovability is the key, and Pek just didn't have his anchor with him tonight.
  • If Danilo Gallinari had the inner drive of Kevin Durant, he'd be Kevin Durant.
  • JaVale McGee is the most perplexing of perplexing players. Everything about him physically says Hakeem the Dream, but then he actually gets the ball and proceeds to play with the IQ of a folding chair. George Karl desperately seems to want to be able to play him, but can't find any reasons to trust him.
  • You do have to credit Karl for the job he's doing with the Nuggets though. He understands exactly what he has in each and every guy on his roster. His system is built to maximize Denver's innate athleticism and blinding speed. He let's the smart players (Lawson, Miller, Iggy, Gallo) make all the decisions so the not-so-smart ones (McGee, Faried, Hamilton) can stick to basic shooting/rebounding/dunking. And he's somehow crafted that system to turn sheer activity into a passable defense. The Nuggets come at you like a 5-man team of Corey Brewers....just arms and legs and jumping and hyper full-court presses.
  • When Dante Cunningham blocks a shot, he blocks a shot. He's got that KG-like ability to just leap and extend and get to a ball out in no-man's land from a guy who's falling away from the hoop when he releases.
  • Ridnour+Barea was not good tonight. Lawson and Miller ate them alive. If Shved should have played more tonight, it should have been at the point.
  • Steimsma....ugh....let's just say in the 5 minutes he was on the floor, he let two rebounds hit the floor right in front of his feet before he collected the ball. Yeah...
  • Robin Lopez somehow managed to get up 17 shots tonight, miss all but 3 of them, and still get to the line 17 times and still score 21 points. Robin Lopez. What on earth. How do you let a guy get off 17 clean shots, notice he's not hitting any of them, and still send him to the line 17 more times on top of that?