The Charlotte Hornets, behind a magisterial 34 point effort from Kemba Walker and a big bench contribution led by Al Jefferson beat the Wolves in Charlotte tonight 108-103. The loss drops the Wolves to 20-44 on the season as they head home to face the Spurs tomorrow night at Target Center.
This game featured two of the Wolves' season long weaknesses haunting them: Three point shooting disparity and bench play.
I know we harp on it, but I don't know how to write about this game without leading with the obvious: the stretches where the Wolves bench players were predominantly on the floor were disastrous. In the first half, the Wolves trailed by three points when Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine went to the bench late in the first quarter. By the time Rubio checked back in with 8 minutes left in the 2nd, the Wolves were down 14. They battled back to take a two point lead into halftime thanks to strong second quarter play from Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
In the second half, Rubio checked out with the game tied at 71 in the third, at which point I tweeted:
Rubio to bench with game tied. Key stretch next few minutes as bench cycles in.— canishoopus (@canishoopus) March 8, 2016
Alas, the Wolves once again fell behind by double-digits, and this time, despite a last gasp effort to get back in the game, it was too little too late for the Wolves as they simply did not have the time or energy to overcome the deficit.
There are reasons the Wolves are 20-44, and their lack of depth of talent is one of them. When you are cycling in the likes of some of these guys who are either too young or too short of quality, this sort of thing is the inevitable result. While it's disappointing as a fan to see it happen, and to know before hand what's likely to happen, it reminds us that this team is still a ways away in terms of having the quality to win consistently. The Wolves didn't get a bench bucket until Tyus Jones' runner to end the third quarter.
One of the results of the lack of depth tonight was that Zach LaVine played 45 minutes, with a brief stretch at the end of the first quarter his only rest. It was too much, as he was clearly tired in the 2nd half, missing shots and fumbling the ball, especially when trying to carry the load with the rest of the starters on the bench toward the end of the third quarter. It's too much to ask, but when there are no palatable alternatives, this is what you wind up with. Andrew Wiggins also eclipsed 40 minutes tonight, so we'll see how things go tomorrow against the Spurs.
Praise must be given to Kemba Walker, who shredded the Wolves and everyone who tried to guard him from Ricky Rubio to LaVine to Tyus Jones. To be fair, he made a bunch of contested or at least semi-contested threes tonight and finished 6-9 from beyond the arc to lead the Hornets who went 12-30 as a team. This is the other consistent problem for the Wolves, who went only 4-15 from three as a team.
There were good things tonight as well: I thought Andrew Wiggins played a strong game and really took over in stretches, scoring 25 points overall on 11-17 from the field. Had some terrific transition finishes as well. Karl-Anthony Towns continued his remarkable rookie year, going for 28 and 14, and to be honest it seemed almost ho-hum, which is just how good he is. (To be fair, both he and Dieng struggled at times against Al Jefferson and his array of post scoring moves).
Let's go to a few bullet points:
- We've talked about Marvin Williams as a potential FA target for the Wolves, and he did nothing to dissuade tonight, finishing with 15 and 7 while blocking three shots.
- I've said this before, but it's guys like Williams, who is not exactly upper echelon, that worries me about the long term future of the Towns-Dieng front court pairing. Dieng simply couldn't guard Williams to the three point line, and he made three 3s on the night.
- That's not me blaming Dieng; it's just a huge ask. Dieng is a center, as is Towns; guarding combo forwards and stretch fours is not something you can reasonably expect.
- It was nice to see the Wolves not give up--they got the game within 3 late, but Hornets free throws and a Rubio turnover ended things. Their final push just came too late.
- Jones really struggled, but kudos for making a big play and forcing a turnover off Frank Kaminsky late in the game to give the Wolves just a little bit of life. The effort is there, and there are some skills, but it's going to take time with his physical limitations.