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Wolves 95, Knicks 103: Big (Man) Problems

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Carmelo Anthony and Robin Lopez were posting and toasting all through the night, as the Knicks ran to victory without a box out in sight. New York dominated the glass, 51-31.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — When the buzzer sounded to end the first quarter, Robin Lopez already had 16 points. That was the most the seventh year center has ever scored in a quarter.

The Wolves also had 16 points, trailing by 15 after an extremely sluggish and flat opening quarter that didn't exactly inspire hope. "We had no energy," Wiggins commented afterwards when asked about the slow start.

"We can't let it happen again, we've got to come to the game no matter what it takes, come out energized, come out with the mindset that we've got to win this game and we've got to play physical like we've been playing Memphis and games before."

Lopez finished the night matching season-highs in both points (26) and rebounds (16) in 36 minutes. He smoked Gorgui Dieng early and often. Through the night, he went completely ignored when it came to putting a body on him in the paint.

"Give Robin credit, he never leaves the paint, he never leaves the front of the rim," Sam Mitchell said during his postgame availability.

"He's just so big and our guys couldn't move him. There are nights where our lack of size just hurts us. I've been saying it, Karl [Towns] and Gorgui have to play a lot of minutes with injuries that we have. You could tell Gorgui was tired tonight, Karl was a little tired. When we go small, we're really small."

For what it's worth, and hopefully this doesn't read as an excuse for a terrible showing by G, who has been excellent over the last 10 games, Dieng appeared to be exhausted from the jump and not completely engaged in the game.

After playing 44 minutes in Memphis last night—because the Wolves don't have any other competent bigs to put in the game with Kevin Garnett, Nikola Pekovic, and Nemanja Bjelica all sitting out with injuries, two of which that never figure to improve—he didn't have it in this one. After posting five straight double-doubles, and averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds over the last 10 games, Dieng was nowhere to be seen against the Knicks on Saturday night.

Dieng appeared to be a bit off in pregame shootaround, which I've started to place more value on watching. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that guys who look good in warm-ups often play well. I've been showing up two hours before tip-off to test my theory over the past month. Watching pregame routines closely is also how I've reaffirmed what kind of shots the players are more likely to hit.

This is certainly better suited for another post, and perhaps I will come back to my thoughts here later on, but go to enough shootarounds and you come to realize their importance in shaping performance. This is my long-winded way of saying that Dieng looked terrible in shootaround tonight. I could have predicted that he was going to lay an egg in the actual contest. Three guys stuck out to me as having "the look" before the game. Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, and Ricky Rubio had the look, and each of them had positive performances.

Anyway, I can't back up my "Player X looked like the bee's knees in shootaround" claims with any data, but it's something I've been paying attention to through the season that seemingly translates.

OK, back to the game recap now.

While Lopez was a boss, especially on the offensive glass where the Wolves weren't boxing him out from start to finish, and the serious dearth of bigs reared it's ugly head again, Melo was a scoring assassin. Anthony finished with 30 points (12-23), 11 rebounds, and four assists in almost 41 minutes. In the fourth quarter, he became the 30th player in league history to surpass the 22,000-point mark for his career.

"I didn't even know I played that many minutes, to be honest with you," Anthony said. "But we needed it tonight, every minute of it. ...We sat down and talked about that. Whatever I've got to do to try and get these wins up, I'm going to try to do it. So whatever he [Kurt Rambis] needs me to do."

New York shot 50.6 percent from the floor compared to Minnesota's 42.9, but the game was lost on the glass for the Wolves. The Knicks won the battle of the boards, 51-31.

The 20-board advantage was a season high for the Knickerbockers. Karl-Anthony Towns (24 points and 8 rebounds) and Gorgui Dieng were the only two bigs that logged minutes for the Wolves tonight, and that cannot go understated when talking about the game. The lack of alternative bigs to choose from is tying Mitchell's hands behind his back when it comes to rotations. Small-ball was never going to cut it tonight with the way Lopez was playing.

"Obviously he's an NBA player for a reason, he's a great center in this league," said Towns. "We respected him tremendously before the game started. He did a great job being in the right positions today. Sometimes the ball goes your way when rebounding."

My biggest takeaway was the complete lack of depth at power forward and center; if Dieng doesn't play well, which he absolutely didn't, this team is likely not going to win. KG and Pek are dead space right now. Bjelica hasn't played well whatsover and he's hurt too. Payne is painful—proven through statistics, the eye test, and Mitchell's actions tonight when the team needed size. Payne still grabbed the DNP-CD.

For as sensational as Towns has been during his rookie season, the Wolves still have big problems up front and that was an obvious reason for the loss tonight.

Playing Yo-Yo with Zach LaVine...

Again, my point here is likely better suited for a separate post but Mitchell continues playing yo-yo with Zach LaVine. The indecision is so completely past the point of annoyance that many of us simply shrug at the constant flip-flopping. It's become an expectation.

One night LaVine starts at shooting guard in Memphis and looks great, that was last night if you're keeping track, while the next night he's right back to the bench in favor of Tayshaun Prince. In theory, I completely understand Mitchell's decision to shift Wiggins to shooting guard to have Prince guard Melo. The Wolves need Wiggins to be their big-time scorer and can't have him exert all of his energy on the defensive end.

But enough is enough already.

LaVine is ten times better at shooting guard next to Rubio than he is running point guard on the second unit. I don't care about the matchups any longer. LaVine should be starting at the two every game for the rest of the season. It's time the team stops making him ride an insane roller coaster of positional uncertainty.

This is long overdue anyway; the whole situation has been arguably one of the most maddening aspects of the season. Zach is an obvious two-guard, the Wolves aren't going to the playoffs, and Prince isn't part of the long-term core. Why is this difficult?

Quotes

Kristaps Porzingis only logged 12 minutes due to a few reasons: foul trouble, the Knicks didn't really need him to win the game and, as plenty of us here at Canis already know, Kurt Rambis does things that nobody can ever understand. Porzi on the win…

"It feels great obviously. We’ve been on a losing streak so finally to get this win, it’s a good feeling and we want to keep this going."

On his foul trouble:

"I think it just happened that way. It wasn’t me being over excited or trying to prove something. It was just me not being smart enough. I committed some fouls at the beginning and I couldn’t find my rhythm and then some more. At least Karl had a great game. He’s been doing great for his team and that’s great to see that a rookie’s doing that well in his first year for their team."

On Carmelo Anthony reaching 22,000 career points:

"That’s an unbelievable accomplishment. He’s been in the league for a long time and for me, I can just learn from him. The things that he’s achieving and the way that he’s been leading the team, those are the things that I want to see in myself someday. For me it’s just to watch the greatness and learn."

Ricky Rubio on the game:

"We didn't start the game the way we wanted and we didn't play aggressive until the last quarter. It's an old story that's happening again. For example, when we played them in New York, and it happened to us a couple of more games, so we just have to know that in this league, if you're not ready to play from the beginning, it's going to be tough.

We just have to stick with the process. I mean, I think the young guys are learning. We were having a good stretch before the break and it seems that we kind of forget a little bit. We just have to get back on track and play the way we were."

Notes

  • Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 24 points and eight rebounds. Towns' 23 field goal attempts marked a new season high, surpassing his previous total (21 at NYK, Dec. 16). Towns added three swats, marking his 18th game with three or more blocks.
  • Ricky Rubio finished with a game-high 16 assists and only one turnover. He added three steals to the cause and leads the NBA with 23 games with three or more swipes.
  • Andrew Wiggins scored 24 points, including 18 in the second half on 6-of-13 shooting. Tonight was his 32nd game this season with 20+ points, and he continues to show that he has the scoring chops. Now for my criticism: he got caught not boxing out a handful of times tonight, often resulting in offensive rebounds and second chance points for New York. He needs to slide over quicker and box out when he's the helper to the help defender. Casual viewers will blame Dieng for not grabbing the rebound, but there were a few times tonight where Wiggins was the real culprit (mostly when playing small forward, so if LaVine is the future two it's certainly something to keep an eye on).
  • Shabazz Muhammad was a huge spark off the bench on his way to 20 points (8-11). He gave the team life when they were dragging. It was his fifth 20+ point game of the season and first since scoring 25 on Jan. 23 vs. Memphis.