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Home and Road: The Jekyll and Hyde Minnesota Timberwolves

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What’s with this extreme home/road dichotomy?

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With a few notable exceptions, such as last night’s fourth quarter and overtime debacle, the Wolves have been excellent at home this season, going 12-5 and outscoring opponents by more than six points a game. That’s a .706 winning percentage, which compares favorably to the league average, which is roughly .600 at home.

With even fewer exceptions, the Wolves have been abysmal on the road, going 2-12 and getting outscored by more than seven points a game. That’s a horrific .143 winning percentage, which obviously does not compare favorably to the league average.

This is of some immediate importance, since the Wolves are about to embark on a stretch of six road tilts in their next seven games, and shows no signs of improving. The Wolves were riding high heading into their last road trip, with six wins in seven tries, (including their only two road wins of the season,) and yet completely whiffed, losing four straight on a western swing that included winnable games that they failed to take advantage of.

The short answer as to why this is happening is that the Wolves defense is good at Target Center but completely collapses on the road. The longer answer...

The Wolves have a middle of the pack (15th in offensive rating) offense at home. They don’t shoot the ball great, but they dominate the offensive glass, don’t turn it over, and get a significant boost at the free throw line. It adds up to roughly league average for home offense.

But their defense is the real game changer at home—they are ninth in the league in home defensive rating. They are in the top half of the league in steals, opponent paint points, opponent fast break points, and opponent points off turnovers. They are sixth in opponent FTAr. In other words, they are smart and aggressive at home, forcing mistakes, limiting transition, and not fouling. While not a great defensive rebounding team at home, they hang in there, and because of their offensive board work grab over half of the available rebounds at Target Center.

The Wolves also have the 15th ranked road offense. Of course the whole league is worse on the road, so the rating is lower, but it still sits smack in the middle of the 30 teams.

But the defense collapses to 27th on the road, and it’s not any one thing. They are last in defensive rebounding percentage on the road. 27th in fast break points allowed. They foul more. They give up easier shots, leading to a higher opponent eFG percentage, comparatively.

In other words, they play defense with much less fierceness and commitment, get pushed around on the boards, fail to get back in transition, and altogether fail to slow down opponents. The frustrating part is, as we’ve noted, they hold their own on offense on the road, the side of the ball where their talent seems to tell the tale, but utterly fall apart defensively, where intelligence and consistent effort are required for success.

Some of this might be attributable to their schedule: The only truly poor teams they have played on the road are the Cavs (who they beat) and the Suns, who it turns out are in the midst of a winning streak. But this offers little solace: There are simply not a lot of bad teams on the road schedule. Of the next six on the road, they will likely only be favored against the Bulls.

The Wolves have the second biggest gap (The Mavericks are first) in home-road winning percentage. They have the biggest ranking drop off defensively, from ninth to 27th. Their home stats reflect a playoff quality team, on the road they are among the handful of worst teams in the league.

27 of their 51 remaining games are away from home. If they don’t turn this trend around, it will be another disappointing season. They desperately need to figure out how to bring the same defensive energy to other teams’ buildings that they do at Target Center, and it needs to start happening soon.