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Wolves 111, Dallas 87: Distractions in Big D

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In a tale of two halves, the Wolves pull out a blowout victory in Dallas.

I lived in Dallas for a short period of my life. It was not my favorite place in the world. Apologies to all of our dear Dallas readers out there, but your town is a bit boring. Social life in North Texas consists of going to a restaurant, or a bar, or a sporting event. Because of my affinity for basketball, my proximity to the American Airlines Center, and some dark, cold years of Timberwolves fandom, I frequented a number of Mavericks games during that time. Dirk was in his prime, Tyson Chandler was a monster, and Mark Cuban really knows how to put on a show.

Going to a game at American Airlines is an immersive, almost overwhelming experience. They really should be posting seizure warning signs throughout the arena, because there are enough activities going on at any one time to cause adult-onset ADD. This was in 2011-2012, when this brand of off-court entertainment was just starting to catch hold throughout NBA arenas. Growing up in Target Center, I was accustomed to Crunch, the Howl-O-Meter, and the Reebok Performance Team, but Cuban and the Mavs took it to a entirely new dimension.

I fired up the vegter21 research labs during tonight’s game and found that the Mavs have the following entertainment groups:

  • Mavs Dancers; a group of attractive female dancers
  • Mavs ManiAAcs; a group of chunky male dancers
  • Mavs Hooptroop; a group that shoots t-shirts into the crowd and dunks off trampolines.
  • Mavs Drumline; a group that does Nick Cannon Drumline routines throughout the entirety of the game.
  • Mavsman; a mascot with a basketball head that also dunks off trampolines
  • Champ; a second mascot with a horsehead that regularly beats on a snare drum. And also dunks off trampolines.
  • Gamenight Hosts, changing halftime entertainment, and, of course, Dirk jumbotron spots...

The reason that I’m going into this level of detail is to attempt to describe how distracting it can be to watch basketball at American Airlines. There were times where I would be observing the drumline or the ManiAAcs antics or Champ AND Mavsman crowd surfing through the lower bowl. Times where I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening on the actual court. This can be the only explanation for how the Timberwolves performed during the first half at American Airlines tonight. They were just too distracted by the off-court shenanigans. If Champ, the mascot horse, took a mascot dump in front of the Wolves bench, it would have been more attractive than the basketball that was played in the first two quarters.

First Half - Grossness

I told myself I wasn’t going to drink tonight. I was going to write a Wolves recap, get to bed early, and have myself a productive little Saturday. My sobriety lasted until five minutes left in the first.

Despite playing the last place team in the West, a team that’s gone one and nine in their last ten, the Wolves looked completely lost on both sides of the court. The offense looked forced. KAT was matched up against a front court of Dirk and Max Kleber and couldn’t do anything. Jeff Teague was awful. Jimmy still couldn’t get buckets and Wiggins was barely there in spirit.

The offense didn’t help the defense. There were multiple transition buckets, Harrison Barnes was getting to wherever he wanted on the court, and Dirk was just Dirk. The Wolves conceded 24 of their total 55 points in the paint in the first half. 24 points! Not against a formidable big man or a slashing wing. That’s a roster of Dirk, Kleber, Barnes, Darren Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, and Salah Mejri. The Mavs don’t score points in the paint. They are 30th in the league this season with an average of 35.1 points in the paint per game. I had no choice. If I was going to write a recap of a Wolves loss to the Mavs, I had to crack open another beer. And maybe a couple after that.

Second Half - Delight

The Wolves emerged from the locker room with renewed purpose and effort in the second half. I don't know for sure, but I’m almost positive that Thibs halftime speech was, “STOP F**ING WATCHING THE MANIIACS OR I WILL MURDER YOUR FAMILY!” As awful as the first half was to watch, the second half was quite pleasant. Instead of drinking in desperation, I began drinking in delight.

The antics of American Airlines Center were no longer a distraction. The Wolves started by locking down the defense. After giving up 29 and 26 points in the first two quarters, Minnesota only gave up 17 and 15 points in the last two. That defense lead to an outburst of energy and effort from Andrew Wiggins to start the third. He started aggressively driving to the bucket, hit threes, and played admirably against Harrison Barnes. There was even a point where I thought to myself, “Who’s guarding Barnes right now, he’s doing a good job.... Oh my God, is that Wiggins???” Granted, I was a bit drunk at this point, and I’m prone to overreactions whilst inebriated, but it gave me hope for the future.

The defensive energy, and the quick start from Wiggins, seemed to spark the rest of the team. Offensive sets that had been stagnant in the first became more fluid. Instead of taking late shot-clock, contested shots, the Wolves were driving, making the extra pass, and knocking down threes.

Late in the third, Jamal Crawford started to drive directly at freshly signed Antonius Cleveland, drawing fouls on back-to-back plays, and increasing the Timberwolves lead to ten points. Say what you want about Jamal, but the vet knew exactly what to do when the recent G-League call-up, Cleveland, started to guard him. It was the type of play that I was hoping to see out of KAT and Wiggins during the first. When you’re playing against an inferior opponent, find their weakness, exploit it, and don’t let them get out to a fourteen point, first half lead.

In the end, it was a comfortable win for the Wolves, it just took far, far too long, and too many blogger beers to get there. I had painful flashes of Indiana and Phoenix throughout the first half, but I was happy to see a 24 point win to conclude the night.

Side Notes

  • Taj Gibson is a cement mixer - I’d like to say that he’s a glue guy, but he’s more than that. He just does what needs to be done. I don’t think I could write a more generic, talking heads sentence, but there aren’t many stats that I can use for evidence of how important he’s been. He had a double-double on the night with 10 points and 11 rebounds. He was a +21 in plus/minus. For the season, he has the second highest value over replacement player rating on the team. The only higher rating is Towns. However, you’re not going to regularly look at the box score and see how much impact Taj has on the team. If there was some way to measure effort and doing things the right way, I think Gibson would be high on the list. I’m giving him 4.5 out of 5 vegter stars. Good work, Taj.
  • Get In, My Bjelly - Do you see what a properly placed comma does to a statement? Bjelica was fantastic once again. In 12 minutes of work, he had seven points, three rebounds, one assist, and only one foul. I know that I’m preaching to the choir, but he needs more minutes. I need more Bjelly in my belly on a nightly basis. On one of Bjelica’s three’s tonight, Dave Benz couldn’t help himself, bursting out with a “Three-A-Lica,” earning the Jim Pete chuckle of approval. Come on Thibs, Three-A-Lica needs to get some run.
Forward Nemanja Bjelica wears outlandish clothes as he poses for a videographer during the Minnesota Timberwolves' Media Day in Minneapolis, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)
Forward Nemanja Bjelica wears outlandish clothes as he poses for a videographer during the Minnesota Timberwolves' Media Day in Minneapolis, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)
  • Less Flash, More Cash - This is my first recap of the young season. Last season, even during losses, there would be multiple highlight dunks or amazing Rubio dishes that I could include in my recaps. That doesn’t seem to be happening quite as much in the Wolves recent games. In fact, the only Wolves highlight on NBA.com is the following:

The Wolves just seem to be grinding out wins over the second half of the month. Once they got past the last-second shots in the first series of games, the Wolves have gone a bit underground. They’re the cool, hipster band that you don’t want anyone else to know about because of the fear that they’ll get overexposed. I read Bill Simmons, “The Winners of the NBA’s First Month” column, and there wasn’t one player named from the Wolves. At first, this made me upset and I wanted to start aggressively tweeting at Bill for the slight, but I’m actually happy that the Wolves are off the national radar. Just let them figure out their defense, keep winning games, and stop ignoring inferior teams.

Don't tell anybody, but the Wolves are coming....