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Blazers 135, Wolves 117: Oregon Fail

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Game over.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

As a young child in the public school system, one of my favorite memories from my elementary and middle school years was playing the now infamous computer game — The Oregon Trail.

Ironically enough, the game was first developed by Don Rawitsch, a history major at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. After graduating from college, Rawitsch was hired by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (or MECC as we all know it) and a few years later in 1985, the first version of the game was released for the Apple II computer (seen below).

The setup of the game is fairly simple — players assume the role of a wagon leader guiding a party of settlers from Independence, Missouri to Oregon’s Willamette Valley (where I ironically call home today). During the quest, a variety of challenges are faced by the player, including the need to hunt for food, avoid various illnesses like typhoid/dysentery, and cross various treacherous rivers using one of the following options:

I haven’t played this game in over twenty years, so you’ll have to forgive me if my memory is somewhat spotty, but from what I can remember it didn’t REALLY matter what option you selected from the list above. That sly Don Rawitsch was a pioneer in his own right, and basically set up the game to be a crapshoot as to whether or not the strategy you selected would actually lead towards roaring success or utter despair.

And in a weird way, that’s kind of where the Minnesota Timberwolves currently find themselves as they attempt to cross the river that is professional basketball without Karl-Anthony Towns.

Should they attempt to modify the offense to better suit D’Angelo Russell? Caulk the starting lineup by inserting espresso-fiend Jarred Vanderbilt? Take Jimmy Butler’s old canoe across? Or simply wait to see if conditions improve?

Listen, there was very little to take away from Thursday night’s performance against the Portland Trail Blazers. The two best things to come out of that game was that 1) it was a late game on the west coast so (hopefully) most of you missed it and 2) tomorrow is Friday (or today, depending on when you read this).

Without KAT, who is an All-NBA caliber center, this roster as it currently stands (mixing in talent, youth, and lack of chemistry) just isn’t good enough to win games without their best player.

But here’s my biggest gripe — it's also not THIS bad. I really mean that.

I won’t bore you with my usual optimistic, glass half-full nonsense because that can quickly become tiresome. I still make the personal decision to turn on these games 82 72 nights a year, so whatever pain, suffering, and sadness that comes out of these blowouts is something I’m willing to accept (and it’s still far less traumatic than what we all deal with in our personal lives right now). But the results of these last handful of games (excluding the somewhat exciting contest in Denver on Tuesday), should not and simply cannot keep happening (I mean technically they CAN but you catch my drift).

The Minnesota Timberwolves will wake up Friday morning with the worst point differential in the league throughout the first couple of weeks of the season. Is that solely because of one player, one coach, and/or one executive? In my opinion — no. But to be fair, it IS a real statistic that falls directly on the shoulders of said player(s), said coach(es), and said executive(s).

I don’t really know what the Timberwolves should do or will do as they continue to ford the river without Karl-Anthony Towns in the lineup, but as I tweeted the other night, the most logical decision at this point is option #5 above — Get More Information:

As currently built, this roster is simply not going to win a lot of games without KAT in the lineup (which is also another topic for another day but again it’s the weekend so let’s go enjoy ourselves). But despite playing against mostly reserves in the last 15 or so minutes of the latest blowout to the Blazers, it was fun (at least for me) to watch certain dudes simply give a damn.

To watch a dude like Jarred Vanderbilt, the third-lowest paid player on the team, literally throw his body into every panel of the hardwood floor trying to secure a loose ball. To watch Anthony Edwards, who is probably like eight months removed from getting his driver’s license, navigate screens and try to physically squash the “other” Ant on the court. To watch Jaden McDaniels, who has literally no clue right now what he’s doing, fly around with his 32-foot wingspan and try to make a defensive play to impress the coaches.

Again, in terms of wins and losses, I don’t expect much from this team without Karl — right or wrong, that’s just how I see things right now. When we did preseason predictions a few weeks back, I had the Timberwolves slotted at 2-6 as they entered a mini home stand against the Spurs (2x) and the Grizzles (2x) — two teams like Minnesota who not only find themselves in the bottom of the Western Conference standings, but are also missing key cogs of their rotation.

So in a way, things are exactly where I thought they’d be a week into 2021 (minus the whole “having fun” part). Whether the next step is promoting JV to varsity, force-feeding ball-handling opportunities to Anthony Edwards in the second unit, or simply bribing players with days off from practice for getting four consecutive stops on defense, the time for creativity is now. These players, these coaches, these front office members need to realize that while this season — much like the roster they’ve constructed — is still very much in it’s infancy, something has to change, and it has to change starting Saturday night.

Because as it stands now, the wagon is sinking, and it’s sinking fast.

Game Notes:

  • Garbage time or not, Anthony Edwards put on his best performance of the season, tallying 26 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and one assist. Again, Ant-Man got a heavy dose of meaningless minutes in the fourth quarter (a not-dumb strategy by the way if you’re interested in giving the rookie extra reps), and continued to show a propensity for attacking the rim (he led the team with seven FTA’s). As Tyler Metcalf laid out in this really strong piece from Thursday, the efficiency will ebb and flow for the young Georgia Bulldog, but when it does start to flow consistently, it’s going to be a really beautiful thing to watch.
  • Ed Davis got another start in KAT’s absence, and outside of one rebound and one block, had the exact same stats as I did (and I played fourteen less minutes). Not ideal!
  • For the second straight game, D’Angelo Russell notched 26 or more points, and did so on a very efficient 56.3% shooting (including 42.9% from deep). It does appear as if D-Lo is beginning to find more comfort on the offensive end, which is great news, but it might mean very little if he (and the rest of the starters) can’t find some semblance of chemistry on the defensive side of the ball.
  • Despite not entering the game until mid-way through the second quarter, Jarred Vanderbilt made another strong case for more minutes going forward, posting the first double-double of his career (10 points, 10 rebounds). I’m not remotely knowledgeable enough to understand defense in the NBA, but if I got to wear Timberwolves polos every day at work, I’d probably just start giving the young Kentucky Wildcat as many minutes as he could handle, and then add on all the minutes that Ed Davis is currently getting. What’s the worst that can happen — a blowout loss?

Full Game Highlights:

On a much lighter note, have a safe and relaxing weekend, everyone!