Okay, yes. Without Rubio, Martin and Pekovic, the Wolves aren't a terribly good team to begin with. But it still hurts to lose these kinds of games, because this game was very winnable.
And I'm not talking about a vague, general "we played well most of the game," or "we had the lead for a while," as in implication the Wolves were good enough to win. I'm talking about a very specific, scientific impetus.
With 5:38 left to go in the game, the Wolves led 88-83. They were subsequently outrebounded 12-3 the rest of the way, en route to being outscored 17-6. Seven of the Jazz's rebounds in that time frame were offensive, leading to seven extra Jazz points: four free throws and a trey.
100 - 94 = 6
100 - 7 = 93
93 is less than 94.
Those seven extra points were basically the game.
So even more than the bad turnovers and bad shots, the not-rebounding is what killed the Wolves tonight. Which is becoming a bad habit for the team in general. It was only four days ago that I was here talking to you guys about how the not-rebounding in key moments cost them the game against Denver.
The crux of the issue is, granted, not entirely under the Wolves' control: Thad Young and Gorgui Dieng are just not a good pairing. They're both skill/finesse players in a league where teams routinely play a physical bull at one of the two post positions. The Nuggets got us Friday with the Manimal. The Jazz got us tonight with Enes Kanter.
When Pekovic plays, he and Young are complimentary pieces. Pek occupies and clears space (and is strong on the glass as an individual) which allows Thad to rebound with movement. But Dieng doesn't do that for Thad, and Thad doesn't do that for Dieng, and the end result is usually just both of them getting pushed around.
That said, the Wolves do have a solution, even if it's a temporary one: Jeff Adrien.
Score was 74-72 when Adrien checked in Was 88-83 when he checked out Jazz outscored Wolves 17-6 the rest of the game Not a coincidence— Key Sang (@Phantele_) December 31, 2014
I won't go too in depth about this right now, but suffice it to say that Robocop is the only guy on the roster right now who's walling out opponents for rebounds. When he plays....and this is a trend, not just this one game....he nearly singlehandedly keeps the entire team's head above water on the glass.
Long term, the rotation probably works out fine if everyone's healthy and Adrien pairs with Dieng while Young goes back to pairing with Pekovic (granted, Pek's health is very much and 'if' right now...) But that's small comfort for tonight, when you look at things and realize the Wolves probably win this game simply by keeping Adrien on the floor.
- Sha3azz Muhammad exploded for a new career high of 30 tonight, including going 5-6 from the great beyond. His development has been nothing short of miraculous. He's countering in the post, making smart basket cuts, and now he's working on his catch-and-shoot game. If he can consistently hit threes and learn to move the ball with purpose (as opposed to just getting rid of it like he does now) then holy hell.
- Flip is going to have a very difficult decision to make when Kevin Martin returns. KMart is the team's best shooter by far, and as a primary ballhandler is the kind of 'veteran presence' that can actually make a huge difference. Wiggins is the best defender and needs burn to learn the game. But Shabazz is earning playing time in a way that can't be denied from any angle. In truth, he deserves to start more than Wig or KMart. But is that a call the coaches have the guts to make?
- Along with Adrien, Troy Daniels needs to be in the rotation much more. I'm not sure what Flip's waiting for. The guy is a 3pt camper. Drive-and-kick, it's the simplest play in the book. The fact that Flip seems to want Daniels to 'learn the playbook' is lowkey a legit concern, because that's just making things more complicated than they need to be.
- Gordon Hayward is a max contract talent. Jordan knew what he was doing with that offer sheet, and Nate knew what he was talking about when he said the Wolves should throw money at him. A 6'8" guy who can be either end of the pick-and-roll, hits threes, and defends is an NBA trump card. Everyone should have known when his Team USA teammates and coaches raved about him. Well, they know now.
- BTW, the above is exactly why the Wolves should clear the decks and make a run at Jimmy Butler. If you don't know, you need to know.
- Kyle Korver played tonight. He scored 19 points. He went 5-8 from three. He is now shooting almost 50% from the field, 52% from deep and 93% from the line. That's literally unreal.
Zach LaVine Showcases Vertical On Fast Break Slam https://t.co/bnxRqZVe1X— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 31, 2014
Mo Williams Alley-Oop To Andrew Wiggins https://t.co/Q0PvWHwzRU— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 31, 2014