The Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the Portland Trail Blazers Sunday night by a score of 96-93. To make a long story short, the game wasn't the most beautiful and the Wolves really have no one to blame other than themselves, as they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot (which, ironically, is one of the only shots they connected on all night). Minnesota shot 43.8% from the field, 25.0% from 3 (4/16), and a putrid 67.9% from the free throw line (19/28). To make matters worse, the Blazers actually shot worse, connecting on only 42.1% of their shots from the field and 22.2% from 3 (6/27), though they did convert 86.7% of their free throws (26/30).
Even though the Blazers shot abysmally from beyond the arc, their six threes and 26 free throws were enough to slide past the Wolves. This game is just the latest example in how not shooting threes and not converting from the line (something the Wolves haven't struggled with this year) will not net many wins; the math simply dictates that it can't be done, at least not very easily.
Karl-Anthony Towns, once again, lead the way for the Wolves tonight posting his 25th double-double of the season, recording 21 points and 13 rebounds. Gorgui Dieng also got himself a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards. Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins finished one assist and one rebound, respectively, away from a double-double as each posted 15 points.
For the Blazers, C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard each had 21 points, though they only connected on one of their 10 combined shots from beyond the arc. In the end, Portland's bench was the x-factor as they combined to outscore the Wolves' usually high scoring bench, 40-22 (coming into the game, the Wolves bench averaged 41.8 ppg, third highest in the league).
Despite the outcome of the game, it wasn't all doom and gloom for the Wolves tonight; there were a few bright spots. The first came by way of an Andrew Wiggins-nearly-hitting-his-head-on-the-rim-dunk (or AWNHHHOTRD for short):
A second involved Towns showing off his crazy athleticism, athleticism that should be impossible for a 7-footer:
The third bright spot showed up in the box score in a rather unusual place. Andrew Wiggins recorded a season high nine rebounds tonight, five of which were of the offensive variety. Wiggins' lack of rebounds and assists have been a hot-button topic amongst the Wolves faithful to date. Regardless of where you fall on the "Is this a problem?" continuum, it can be agreed upon that seeing him grab that many rebounds was pleasing to the eye and, perhaps, soothing for the soul (at least to a degree).
I don't claim to be a basketball expert, but I often wonder to what degree his rebounding woes can be attributed to positioning and coaching philosophy rather than a lack of desire; I can't say for sure because I'm not sitting in on practice and haven't looked through a ton of film. But, for example, Philadelphia 76ers' head coach Brett Brown mentioned in a Zach Lowe piece from a few months ago that he was planning on totally rewriting his team offensive rebounding rules had Wiggins ended up in Philly. So, while it is quite possible that I am wrong and it is mostly a mental thing, reading that comment makes me think that his lack of rebounding shouldn't be placed solely on Wiggins and, rather, has something to do with interim head coach Sam Mitchell's philosophy.
And then that raises the question: is that a bad thing? As was discussed on the latest 1500 ESPN Raised By Wolves podcast, it is possible (again, we're not sitting in on practice, so we can't know) that Mitchell and his staff want to slow down the game for him right now and they are doing that by having him focus almost solely on scoring as many points as possible with the idea of adding aspects to his game as he grows. Is that the correct way to go about developing Wiggins' game? Possibly, who's to say. The difficult thing with development and growth is it is often difficult to see. It doesn't happen in obvious spurts, but rather in a more gradual fashion that isn't really noticed until it has already happened.
That doesn't change the fact that waiting for results can be frustrating as hell, especially when the end still seems so far away. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it is only a matter of time until the Wolves are back in the playoff conversation. But, for right now, all we can do is wait and watch these young players continue to grow and develop, no matter how sucky it may be at times. Because, in the end, the results of the growing pains may be well worth the wait.