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Rockets 117, Wolves 111: ...We Have a Problem

Minnesota held tight for three and a half quarters, but failed to get a single stop when it mattered most.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Houston Rockets Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

To say the Minnesota Timberwolves are bad at defense would be an enormously large understatement.

Entering the first of a six game road trip Tuesday night, the Wolves had given up 115 or more points 15 times in their last 17 games, resulting in a league worst defensive rating over that stretch (117.4). While no one would have confused them for the ‘63 Boston Celtics when Karl-Anthony Towns was healthy, their overall defense since KAT went down with a wrist injury has (somehow) gotten even more unbearable, and it was on display yet again against the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center.

While the Wolves did technically get out to a “hot” start defensively, holding Houston to just 52 points in the first two frames, they loosened the reigns rather significantly in the second half, allowing one uncontested dunk and three-pointer after another. In addition to out-shooting the Wolves 51% to 48%, the Rockets also out-assisted Minnesota (24 to 21), out-blocked Minnesota (5 to 0), and out-charity striped Minnesota (26 FTA to 23).

Overall, while the game was somewhat entertaining to watch for two and a half hours, it provided further evidence that while talented, this team is light years away from being in real contention with this current roster/scheme. Offensively, D’Angelo Russell had a strong (and efficient) performance, dropping 28 points on 8-of-15 shooting, while also tallying 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals (he did also turn the ball over a team-high 6 times). However, on the defensive side of the ball, Russell gave about as much resistance as Karl-Anthony Towns did, which is unfortunate since KAT was neither on the floor nor in the building Tuesday night.

For a team like Minnesota that has been dead last defensively for an extended period of time, it is a case of low-hanging fruit to single out one specific player for his effort (or lack thereof) on that side of the ball. Outside of Josh Okogie (who continued to give James Harden serious fits all throughout the night), the Wolves lack any real player who can be trusted in crunch time on the defensive end, which is concerning in itself, but is then amplified by the fact that their best player (Towns) doesn’t really improve the equation when he is on the floor either.

Would this specific iteration of the Wolves (led by shooters like Russell and Malik Beasley) be better off with a center behind them that solely focused on rim protection and defensive rebounding? Probably, but the Wolves aren’t going to trade Towns for someone like Rudy Gobert (nor should they), so finding answers to their pressing questions will somehow have to come from within. Maybe it’s a different scheme, maybe it’s surrounding the Towns/Russell duo with more defenders and less shooters, or maybe it’s the easiest yet simultaneously most challenging option — getting Towns and Russell to both buy in and develop as respectable defenders to compliment their other-wordily offensive games.

Who knows. Gersson Rosas has already shown in his short time in Minnesota a knack for acquiring talent, but if his end game is trying to replicate the formula used by his former employer, the Wolves may truly never reach the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Full Game Highlights

Game Notes

  • Speaking of “defense” and the Wolves — James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for 64 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds Tuesday night, which marks the 16th time this season Minnesota has allowed the opposing back court to score 50 or more points.
  • Despite the loss, the man known as “Launcho” for his ever-florescent green light (h/t John Meyer) played one of his best all-around games since coming to Minnesota back in early February. In addition to grabbing 10 rebounds, Hernangomez finished the night with 18 points on 50% shooting, and is now shooting over 43% on his three-point attempts since coming to Minnesota back in early February. While most Wolves fans will be focused on how the team handles Beasley’s free agency this summer (and rightfully so), I’ll be very interested to see what the market for Juancho is and whether or not Minnesota places an emphasis on retaining him as well.
  • In a game that featured a multitude of players 6’8” and under, it was tough for Big Nazty Naz Reid to find much playing time (he finished with the lowest minutes among the starters), but the undrafted rookie did find time to add to his rapidly-growing collection of poster dunks, this time on the brodie himself:
  • Finally, for the fourth time in six seasons, the Rockets swept the regular season series against Minnesota.