Wolves at Jazz
8:00 pm CST
The beginning of March and the start of the final push of the season. 22 games remain for the Wolves, mostly on the road, and if they are to take another step forward it will require finding a resilience and consistency that has mostly eluded them. They’ve sandwiched wins against undermanned teams (Dallas and Sacramento) around a loss to Houston since the All-Star break, and will now need to find a way to beat better squads if they want to finish on a high note.
The Wolves road trip continues tonight in Utah against a Jazz team that will be playing on the second night of a back to back. The Jazz were in Oklahoma City last night where they got Westbrooked. Russ put 40-11-10 on them, and scored 12 of the Thunder’s last 13 points to lead them to a 109-106 win.
In some ways, the fact that it was so close, and that the Jazz held a late lead, is testament to how good they are. The Thunder shot an amazing 15-22 from three last night, including making their first 12 threes, but the Jazz hung in there by not turning it over and controlling the defensive glass. In the end they were Westbrooked, but they still sit fourth in the Western Conference heading into tonight’s match up.
They’ve done it mostly with defense, where they rank third in the league, mostly by deterring effective shots. They run teams off the three-point line (2nd lowest percentage of opponent shots from behind the arc,) and stop teams at the rim (fifth lowest opponent field goal percentage inside three feet.) They play slow and frustrate opponents—it’s not unlike the Tom Thibodeau Bulls teams. Rudy Gobert has emerged as one of the best interior defensive anchors in the league, and the addition of George Hill out front has brought things together for a Jazz team that after four years in the wilderness will return to the playoffs looking pretty dangerous.
The Wolves meanwhile continue to look like the .500 team they’ve been for the last two and a half months, during which they have gone 18-18. Really, they’ve been a .500 team all season, with a 29-31 Pythagorean record, but of course they standings don’t reflect that due to a spate of unfortunate losses that at certain points has defied belief.
The Wolves have lost both games against the Jazz this season, both at Target Center, and the most recent loss, in early January, was just such a game. Afterwards, I wrote one of my favorite game recaps. That recap was so good the Wolves immediately responded with my favorite three game stretch of the season, with wins over the Mavericks, Rockets, and Thunder, and the Wolves proceeded to run off their best stretch of the season, going 8-3 for the remainder of January.
February was a little tougher at 5-7 against some tough opponents, but was the month of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, as both young players dominated statistically, especially after Zach LaVine went down with his knee injury.
Now the Wolves embark on the home stretch, with 22 games remaining. If they want to stay in touch with a playoff spot, they will have to beat some better teams, and they will have to win on the road. They have just such an opportunity tonight against the Jazz, who played a tough one last night while the Wolves were, presumably, resting in scenic Salt Lake City, which isn’t exactly South Beach, whatever other merits it has.
And maybe we’ll get to see a reprise of this:
Our blogging buddies for today are over at SLC Dunk. Be excellent.