MINNEAPOLIS — The optimistic side of me wanted to believe the Wolves could ride the momentum of back to back victories over the Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago Bulls into Monday night's home matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans. Suddenly, the Wolves would be on a three-game winning streaking playing winning basketball heading into the last game (Toronto at home on Wednesday) before the nine-day All-Star break.
I should know better by now.
Britt Robson wrote an article about the historically bad Wolves' defense a year ago titled "How bad is the Wolves' defense? Historically bad" and one season later another glimpse of that awful defense showed up, even as the team has already matched last seasons 16-win eyesore, engineered to land a top pick. I can't help but think how thankful we should all be, lifelong Wolves fans that is. Could you imagine where this franchise would be without Karl-Anthony Towns in the fold (pauses to give thanks to the Basketball Gods)?
New Orleans snapped a four-game losing streak with a 116-102 victory tonight over the disengaged, lifeless Wolves who played defense at a level reminiscent of last season. Per the usual, one step forward and two steps back.
"We didn't fight back, we usually fight back," said Andrew Wiggins, who didn't grab one rebound and played extremely suspect defense throughout his 31 minutes. "We just need to help each other more and focus in on it." I don't criticize him much, because I see that dust that God flickers on select players over the two seasons I've covered this team, but tonight was one of his worst performances of the year, along with plenty of his teammates. They simply didn't bring it tonight, and that was seriously disappointing to see given the inspiring results of the past two games.
Anthony Davis finished with 27 points and eight rebounds, Jrue Holiday dropped 27 points and dished out nine assists, while Ryan Anderson bounced back after scoring only six points in Saturday's loss at Cleveland to pour-in 26 points off the bench, hitting 9-of-17 from the floor (3-of-4 from deep). Anderson looked like an All-Star in the fourth quarter against the Wolves "white flag" lineup of Tyus Jones, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Nemanja Bjelica, and Adreian Payne. Of course, if you're looking for any positive whatsoever that came out of this game, at least is was nice to see that unit outscore New Orleans 32-21, while Bjelica (10 points and four rebounds, all in the fourth) seemed to get some of his groove back after recent DNP's. He's not in Mitchell's dog house, he's buried underneath it, as Britt said to me right before the fourth quarter got underway.
Anyways, tonight was Anderson's 16th 20+ point outing of the season and I'm particularly interesting in seeing if he gets dealt at the trade deadline, and moreover, if the Pelicans are able to shed one of their bad contracts by tossing Anderson in a deal, as he's an unrestricted free agent after the season and New Orleans doesn't have much flexibility at the current moment.
Hmm... that's an intriguing trade idea and a brief distraction from the putrid performance witnessed at Target Center in front of another lame crowd that only gets excited for free Cherry Berry if the opposing team clanks two consecutive free throws (during the same trip to the line) in the fourth quarter.
Of course, nobody can reasonably blame the fans that do show up, especially tonight, because the team doesn't give the consumers anything to consistently cheer about. Monday's have drawn horribly for years, and I understand the team only has 16 wins, they certainly are not going to make the playoffs, and the Pelicans (Anthony Davis withstanding) don't inspire huge crowds like the Warriors, Cavaliers, or Thunder do. But after Saturday's awesome atmosphere, in which Gorgui Dieng commented was the best he's ever experienced during a home game in his career with the Wolves, it's disappointing to see another dead crowd. Again, I especially don't blame the fans tonight, because the product on the hardwood was incredibly embarrassing, but it's like when your parents tell you they aren't mad at you when you screw up, they're only disappointed. I'm only disappointed that Minnesotans don't seem to have a burning desire to see one the league's all-time great young players in action any chance they get.
Now let's get back to the game.
"I thought tonight our pick-and-roll defense was probably the worst it's been all year," Sam Mitchell said during his postgame press conference, in a deflated tone.
"We've got to work on that tomorrow," he continued. "It felt like nobody really played well. It seemed like for whatever reason we didn't have any energy, we didn't have any life. It seemed like in that third quarter when we were getting a little bit of life, we just couldn't get any stops. Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson—you expect some of those guys to do some of the things they did and you know Ryan's going to make some shots, but we just gave too much space to Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson.
Give them credit, they came out, they played, they beat us. We were flat tonight. For whatever reason, we never got to the point to where we made enough of a push after we got down to get back in the game like we normally do. It just seemed like nobody had energy. We just did a lot of things that... we didn't pass the ball as well. I can recall us setting maybe one good screen and that was in the fourth quarter. We didn't set screens. All those things we've got to go back and clean up in practice tomorrow, watch the tape. I'm just going to say it's one of those clunkers. You get two, three, four a season. I think we've had one earlier. I can't recall, we haven't had one in a long time. Just one of those nights where nobody really played well. Nobody played bad, but nobody played well. We just kind of played. Those are the kind of results you're going to get."
I suppose it was cool to see Karl-Anthony Towns finish with 19 points and 12 rebounds, upping his rookie-leading double-double count to 29 on the season (and eighth straight). With the double-double, Towns ties the club's single season rookie record (Kevin Love, 2008-09). He's averaging 21.8 points, on 60.0% shooting (72-of-120), to go with 12.5 rebounds per game over his last eight contests. The team collectively played so poorly that it's hard to give credit to anyone, but after games like tonight, the easiest way to find solace in defeat is knowing the Wolves currently have arguably the most valuable asset in the entire NBA. I can't wait to see if Bill Simmons agrees in his annual NBA Trade Value column...but then again, where is he going to publish that? Is he still going to write it? I sure hope so. Wolves fans could use a nice distraction from another lottery bound season.
As always, Ricky Rubio speaks the cold hard truth after the game...
Rubio: "We won two games in a row and it seems like we're cool. It's not."— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) February 9, 2016