MINNEAPOLIS – I'm not going to spend too much time rehashing the frustrating details of the Wolves 112-100 loss to Denver.
The defense was really bad and the offense was decent, though nowhere near good enough to combat the defensive issues. The previously ice cold Randy Foye scored a season-high 19 points off the bench – including 17 in the first half – and the Nuggets shot 56.2 percent, another season-high, including 10-of-18 from three-point range.
Denver thoroughly outplayed the Wolves in almost every facet of the game, picking up their sixth win in seven games and beating Minnesota for the second time in four days. Meanwhile, as the Nuggets are surging (winning for the fifth time in the last six games after losing eight in a row before the streak of solid play), the Wolves are fading after an 8-8 start to the season, losing seven of their last eight games.
It was another home loss (3-10 at Target Center) with little energy in the building and no resistance on the hardwood.
"We're not doing our job," said Ricky Rubio, who finished with 13 points, nine assists, and four rebounds in 30 minutes. "We're losing games that we should be winning. It's on us. We can't blame anybody. Our defense has been really bad lately."
Zach LaVine finished with 20 points, five assists, and four rebounds to go with a steal and block in 25 minutes off the bench, likely saving the Wolves from getting blown out at home.
"It wasn't going our way," LaVine said. "We've got to find some way to dig out of it because it's really annoying. We know that we're better than this. We know we're one of the most talented teams and we're just not putting the whole game together."
Sam Mitchell Presser
The most interesting part of the evening came after the final buzzer sounded. Mitchell was excellent in his postgame press conference, giving what felt like an honest explanation of the game and what the team is currently going through (though his three-point talk was disingenuous at best – the Wolves have shooters).
I thought transcribing the entire presser would be more insightful than trying to make sense of another flat start at home and overall lackluster performance against a mediocre opponent.
The defense has been so good at the start of the season...
"Well guys, we changed our lineup. Remember early in the year we were playing better defense but we had Tay [Prince] and KG out there, but then we couldn't score. We couldn't score enough. Now we add Kevin [Martin] into the lineup, I think he's been in the lineup what the last 10 games, 11 games, something like that, and now we're not scoring and we're not defending. We're going to have to do something. We're going to make some adjustments and tweak the lineup a little bit. We're not the highest scoring team anyway, so we just may have to err on the side of caution of trying to defend people and keep the game as tight as possible and try to win it at the end. I look at their team, they have seven guys that you would say are legitimate three-point shooters. You look at our team, you got what... Zach... and well, Kevin [Martin] is shooting under 30 percent. So we got one guy shooting in the 30's on three-point shots. It's no space. For whatever reason we're not a running team. We don't run enough and when you gotta play halfcourt basketball, and you don't have shooters to spread the floor, it makes it tough."
Mitchell continued: "And that's not going to change. I don't think we're going to become a better three-point shooting team. You know, I get this question all of the time: 'ya'll don't shoot enough three's'. Well, it's not that we don't like to, it's just who's going to shoot them? We can shoot them. But at the percentage we're shooting it's probably not a good idea to shoot too many of them. So I give our guys credit for that, at least we're smart enough to understand that."
Are you ready to say how you're going to tweak the lineup?
"I got an idea," Mitchell said. "I'm not going to say it right now. I want to sleep on it and make sure."
(Zach LaVine, Zach LaVine, Zach... wait, you didn't already know how I felt?)
"You had a good chance to beat them, and then they come back on a back-to-back and just soundly whoop us," Mitchell added. "For me, we've lost 15 games, this is probably the most disappointing. We've been in every game, but tonight for whatever reason [trails off] ... I think we've got some young guys kind of feeling sorry for themselves and we've got some guys that don't understand really what this league is about."
Mitchell continues: "I remember this, my first year in the NBA, I was always ready to play against the Karl Malone's, the Charles Barley's, and the guys with the name because you were so afraid that if you didn't play hard they would embarrass you. And then I remember playing against guys I never heard of before and they just kicked my butt because it's just that natural tendency, 'Oh, I never heard of this guy.'
I keep telling our guys, this is the NBA. If that guy has a jersey on, he's been scouted, he's been one of the better players on the team where he came from, whether it's college or Europe or wherever he came from. He's not in this league and can't play. Guys don't make teams, there are only 400 players in the world that play in the NBA out of billions of people. 400 hundred. So, if that guy has a jersey on, he may not be as good as you, he may not have the athletic ability, but there's more to playing this game than running and jumping. It's using your brain. It's knowing how to set your guys up. How do you think Jameer Nelson and Randy Foye and all these guys – Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince, and Andre Miller – that are 34 and 35 years old or older can still play? Why is it the same teams every year compete for a championship? The same teams. Because of the experience. Knowing how to play. Understanding that it's not about running and jumping, it's about playing basketball. Right now we play basketball, but we're not PLAYING BASKETBALL.
We got guys ahead of us, gotta get your head up and see them. Head-man the ball. You gotta carry out your assignments defensively. And then some nights you have to get in your stance and guard a guy, it's just that simple. If there's no pick, if there's no screen, you gotta get in your stance and guard a guy. We haven't been very good at that the last few weeks."
When you look at the defense tonight, is it more a team defense thing or was it help problems or pick-and-roll problems?
"No I don't think so, guys. Pick-and-roll is tough for everybody in this league. You look at the second quarter, they just squared us up and beat us. They just beat us. When you look out on the court and we have, a lot of times, four really really young guys and they don't understand help defense. They don't understand cover-down. And you teach it and you think 'well guys, you practice it every day,' but it's gotta become second nature. That's what we get a lot of. And by the time you realize that it's too late, the guy is gone. And so it's gotta become, when certain things happen, I'm just there because that's just where I'm supposed to be because I don't know anything different, that's just how I play basketball. That's why veteran teams have such an advantage. I've watched San Antonio the past two weeks and how their just hammering people. And I'm watching them saying 'what are they doing different?'
Nothing. They just know how to play and every little mistake you make they punish you for it. If you don't come together on the switch they slip. If you don't lock and trail, and then shoot the gap to cut your guy off, they curl. If you [inaudible] and get extended, they slip. It's just simple basketball, but the difference between where we are now... we have talent, but our guys need to learn how to play basketball. Trust me guys, you know, for the fans they think it's tough for them, it's tougher for us because we're the ones living with this every day and we're the ones that gotta get them better and we're the ones that gotta keep teaching. At some point they're going to get it, but they're not going to get it overnight. If they did, we'd be the first team in history with a bunch of 20-year-olds, one year out of school, that would have gotten it before anybody else. I like to think I can coach, but I realize I'm not that good.
Some things are just going to take time and it's frustrating, it's hard, but when you got a bunch of young players, you know, you look at our team – other than KG, Andre, and Tayshaun – that's our basketball team, a bunch of young guys. And if you ask them, they think they know how to play. But, you know, it's different between playing and understanding what you're doing out there. Right now we're in that phase where we're just playing."
Star Wars Night
It was Star Wars night at Target Center and instead of seeing the force awaken in the young Wolves, we were treated to Revenge of the Foye. I asked the Twittersphere to send me Star Wars quotes.
Send me a Star Wars quote/link it back to the Wolves to win a spot in my recap for @canishoopus. PATIENCE YOU MUST HAVE my young padawan.— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) December 16, 2015
Music: Feel Real
That's the time it took
To calm these things
Better to have been with than live without it
Hold yourself, howl and scream
Finally feel everything joining underneath