2021 has officially come to an end, and so has a difficult and trying stretch of games for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Let’s break it all down...
The good news entering Friday night was that Anthony Edwards and Jarred Vanderbilt returned to the lineup after missing more than a week due to the NBA’s Health & Safety protocol. ANT wasted little time getting started against the Jazz, flying through the air for a thunderous dunk to start the game. The extended absence from the court didn’t seem to affect Anthony Edwards’ overall explosion or endurance, as he played 32 minutes and tallied 26 points before eventually fouling out late in the fourth quarter (more on that in a second).
Ant's first bucket back had to be a dunk pic.twitter.com/cq6ghJ3P9D— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) January 1, 2022
As for Vando — he had less of an impact Friday night against Utah, finishing with just 5 points and 7 rebounds in 22 minutes of action. V8 did record 2 blocks and 1 steal, but his return to the court looked like a guy who needed a game or two to fully get his legs back underneath him. Considering how long he was in the Health & Safety protocols, you can’t really blame Vanderbilt for having an off night (by his standards) as he continues to work his way back into the rotation.
Outside of the return of two very important starters, there wasn’t much to take away from this one. With D’Angelo Russell still sidelined due to COVID-19, Malik Beasley got another start and finished with 22 points on 8-16 shooting, including 6-14 from three. For those of you scoring at home, Malik shot 35.8% from deep on 10.3 attempts per game during the month of December, which isn’t horrendous, but it’s also not good enough if the Wolves are going to rely on him as a volume scorer off the bench one the starting lineup becomes whole again.
If you wake up Saturday morning (likely hungover) and take a quick glance at the box score from Friday night, you’ll probably assume that the Utah Jazz thoroughly dismantled the Wolves for the third straight time this season.
While the score once again got away from the Wolves against their Northwest Division foe, Minnesota actually put up a strong fight for roughly 38 minutes before seeing the bottom fall out against the Donovan Mitchell-led Jazz squad. After trailing by double digits after the first two quarters, the Wolves stormed out of the halftime gates, outscoring the Jazz 37-23 in the third frame. With 10:47 left in the fourth quarter, the Wolves actually led 92-91, but then...
The wheels completely fell off.
Donovan Mitchell showed once again why he’s a top-10 player in the NBA, powering the Jazz to a 22-0 run over the span of 5:11, which quickly and abruptly ended any momentum the Wolves had built up over the previous three quarters.
Simply put, this Utah Jazz team is the real deal. They obviously have had some major postseason letdowns over the last few years, but if Mitchell continues to play at the level he has been this season, the Jazz will be a formidable opponent for the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors come playoff time. The man known as “Spida” wrapped up 2021 by dropping a season-high 39 points on 12-21 shooting (including 6-11 from deep), giving buckets to any and everyone that Chris Finch tried to throw at him.
The other notable “bad” takeaway from Friday night’s game was the Wolves’ continued propensity for fouling. Minnesota ended the night with ten more personal fouls than the Jazz, which resulted in a 41-22 disparity at the free throw line. In addition to Anthony Edwards, Jaylen Nowell also fouled out of Friday’s contest despite playing only 18 minutes (even Jaden McDaniels thinks that’s crazy).
The Wolves have clearly shown an ability this season to defend at a much higher level, but their knack for fouling and sending teams to the line is becoming more and more of an issue, and one that will need to be addressed immediately as the calendar flips to 2022.
If you missed the latest Timberwolves game against the Jazz, I suggest watching the game highlights below rather than trying to catch a replay on TV or League Pass. With that in mind, I hope each and everyone of you has a fantastic (and safe!) New Years Eve and an even better 2022. On behalf of everyone here at Canis Hoopus, I want to sincerely thank you for your continued support, your comments, and your overall sense of community, especially during another very challenging and tumultuous year.
Stay safe, be well, and Happy New Year!