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Hornets 120, Wolves 114: So Close, Yet So Far Away

Minnesota Timberwolves v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Tonight’s game was billed as Anthony Edwards vs. LaMelo Ball. While the headliners didn’t disappoint, the real attraction was Terry Rozier as he came within one point of tying his career-high.

Rozier utterly dismantled the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight with 41 points while shooting 13-20 from the floor, 6-10 from three, and 9-9 from the line. Rozier also added seven rebounds and three assists.

Giving up monster games to opposing guards is nothing new this season. Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, Trae Young, Bradley Beal, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are all averaging/have scored over 30 points against the Timberwolves this season. The tough part about tonight, though, was that the Timberwolves actually played solid defense against Rozier. He just made a lot of difficult shots.

However, let’s refocus on the main attraction tonight of the battling rookies, neither of whom disappointed. Edwards continued to show his growth as he recorded 21 points, six rebounds, and three assists compared to Ball’s 20 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and three steals.

Some mainstream pundits may try to say the case is settled between these two, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s far too early to tell, and both are very talented players. I know, not necessarily the hot take you were looking for—apologies for the nuance, patience, and general appreciation of two really talented kids.

While these two didn’t have much head-to-head confrontation, they did share an extremely entertaining stretch in the second quarter where they traded buckets and assists. It was a rare run of excellent shot-making and ball-movement that wasn’t interrupted by unnecessary whistles or a coach’s timeout trying to kill momentum.

As the game progressed, the win was always within the Timberwolves’ reach. The hope for that ever-elusive win was at our fingertips. Then we entered crunch time.

Without reading anymore, I’m sure you can deduce what happened.

I love Josh Okogie. He is the team’s best defender, a leader, and a wonderful human being. However, his complete inability to make a jump shot has made him unplayable late in games. This isn’t entirely his fault either because we see non-shooters close games for other teams. In Okogie’s case, though, the steadfastness to place him in the corner every offensive possession is mind-boggling. He instantly becomes the easiest player to guard in the league, and the Timberwolves are now playing five vs. four basketball. If Okogie has to be in there for defensive reasons, please put him in motion by cutting, screening, or anything that isn’t him floating on the perimeter.

This utter lack of scoring threat is compounded as Ricky Rubio continues to be put in to close games. We have far too big of a sample size this season for this to continue.

At least we were gifted some Jaden McDaniels crunch time minutes as he was subbed in at the 3:04 mark, but it was too little too late. A flurry of fouls kept the Timberwolves close for longer than it needed to.

It is easy to blame tonight’s loss on Rozier’s monster night or lineup mismanagement or missing D’Angelo Russell, but none of those were the sole reason for the loss. The Timberwolves lost tonight’s game in one key area: rebounding.

Rebounding is not this team’s specialty, but tonight was embarrassing for the Timberwolves on the boards. The Timberwolves were outrebounded 55 to 40. Among the 55 rebounds the Hornets corralled, 12 of them were offensive rebounds. Giving up that many second chances is inexcusable and makes it astronomically challenging to win. For reference, Orlando leads the league with 11.7 offensive rebounds per game.

There is an art to rebounding, but so much of it is pure effort. Effort has long been an issue for this Timberwolves franchise, but this generally is a group that plays hard. There was never a stretch tonight where the game got out of hand, and it was always within reach. Unfortunately, for a game that was close throughout, the result always felt inevitable.

Game Highlights