One day removed from the Super Bowl, a contest that pitted the two best teams in the NFL against one another, the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves squared off for their own special game, except instead of the two best franchises in the league, it was the two worst teams in the Western Conference.
While Minnesota’s early season struggles have been well-documented (and somewhat expected), the sluggish start for Luka Doncic and his Maverick counterparts has been one of the bigger surprises of the 2020-21 season thus far. Luckily for the fellas in Big D, the scheduling gods gave them just what they need Monday night — 48 minutes of “professional basketball” against the league’s worst defense.
The Mavericks defeated the Timberwolves 127-122 on Monday, led by a scintillating performance from Kristaps Porzingis, who finished the game with 27 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 6 (SIX!) blocks. Dallas also benefitted from a strong performance from Tim Hardaway, Jr., who tallied 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
As for Minnesota, they got just six minutes out of D’Angelo Russell before he was once again sidelined with leg soreness (specifically to the OTHER leg, not the one that he has been having ongoing problems with this season). From there, the wheels really fell off for the Wolves once again (although you could question if they were ever truly on), resulting in another disappointing loss, their 18th of the (somewhat still early) season.
Alright full disclosure here — I started writing most of this recap at halftime so that I could allow myself an uninterrupted glass of red wine while I attempted to prepare southwest shrimp tacos with pico de gallo and hot sauce crema. Little did I know that the Timberwolves would once again put on a second-half performance reminiscent of what we saw Saturday in Oklahoma City, so let’s regroup here.
First and foremost, the highlight of Monday night’s game (and honestly of the entire season thus far) was the fourth quarter performance by NBA Star Malik Beasley. The former Denver Nugget was a five-alarm fire in the final frame, connecting on 6-of-7 threes for 22 points and was the driving force behind Minnesota’s feverish comeback. Malik finished with 30 points on 10-of-21 shooting, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and zero turnovers.
Malik Beasley's 22 fourth quarter points are the second-most in the 4th in team history. Behind Hollywood Robinson's 23 vs. CLE in '96.— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) February 9, 2021
Real Wolves fans know.
Simply put, Malik Beasley is the second best player on this team, and it is not remotely close right now. Throw friendships, salaries, and frozen genetic traits out the window — what Beasley does on a nightly basis is not only refreshing, but it’s truly inspiring.
Not only is Beasley one of the best shooters in franchise history, he actually gives a damn and leaves it all on the court every time he suits up. He’ll never be a great defender, but what we’re watching this season is an absolute joy — at least for me personally — because no matter how dysfunctional, disappointing, or downright embarrassing the on-court performance can be from this team, Malik simply elevates himself above the fray and continues to bust his ass.
We can agree to disagree on other aspects of this latest rebuild, but credit where credit is due when it comes to Gersson Rosas — not only did he unearth a gem last year at the NBA trade deadline, he may have found a true star in the making.
The other key “good” takeaway from Monday night’s loss was the continued play of 21-year old Jaylen Nowell, who is becoming a walking bucket on the court. The former Washington Huskie finished the night with a career-high 18 points, which surpassed his previous career-high (15 points) that was set this past Saturday against Oklahoma City.
From a simple eye-test (which is my personal favorite analytic), Nowell just understands how to score the basketball. The way he moves on offense (despite the presence of set plays or any real structure) is an absolute joy to watch. He doesn’t have elite size or quickness, but the young shooting guard is demonstrating on a nightly basis that he is a professional scorer and is more than deserving of a guaranteed rotation spot as the season moves on.
(As mentioned previously, this section had to be re-written at the expense of my southwest-themed dinner, so please bear with me).
Far and away the low point of this game, and most games this season, has been the play of basically everyone in the first 24 minutes of games (especially as of late). I joked on Twitter that it seems like the Wolves simply don’t have access to pre-workout or coffee, but in reality there is a serious, fundamental issue here with a bunch of young players continuously coming out flat.
Listen, in my opinion, not every single thing that goes wrong with this team can be tied directly to Ryan Saunders. With that said, giving up back-to-back 43 point first quarters is directly correlated to not having your team ready to play, it’s really that simple. Yes, the players themselves need to be held accountable as well (after all, they are literally paid to do so), but it also cannot be stressed enough how putrid the entire on-court product looks night after night in the first half.
Most of you know me by now, so you know I would never pretend to be an elite basketball mind (or even an average one for that matter). That being said, what the Wolves attempt to do on offense early in games is truly abominable — they rarely run real NBA plays, they fail to set basic screens, and most of the time it’s left to a young player to break his defender down one-on-one in order to salvage the possession.
Again, this 6-18 season is not all Ryan’s fault, but as the season does progress, we are starting to see trends take shape that can point directly to the entire coaching staff failing to put their players in the best position to succeed. The Wolves have now come out flat-lining in their last two games because of uninspired structure on both offense and defense, and once they are buried behind a drift too deep to shovel out of, they miraculously start playing free-flowing and together once they ditch their “game plan” and just start simply playing basketball.
The overall recap from tonight would have obviously been far more dramatic and dreadful had the team lost their 12th game by double-digits (which is incredible once you consider they’ve only played 24 games), but I feel obligated to give credit to the players for not completely keeling over and displaying a little pride in a 5-points loss.
Even for an optimist like myself, it’s fair to consider this a “lost season” based solely on wins and losses. That’s totally fine — no pushback from me. But I still love watching basketball, I love seeing young players develop, and I REALLY love seeing professional athletes fight through adversity.
I’m not sure how many fighters the Timberwolves currently have on their roster, but I do know they have at least a couple. Going forward, let’s see if this team can finally start to play the right way, come together, and feed off of the true leaders of this team — not the one’s who were apparently self-appointed.
(For those still following along, it’ll be Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Pinot Noir for dinner at this point).
FINAL: Dallas 127, Minnesota 122.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) February 9, 2021
Porzingis: 27 pts, 13 reb, 6 blk, 4 ast
Doncic: 26 pts, 8 reb, 5 ast, 7 TO
Hardaway Jr: 24 pts
Beasley: 30 pts (22 in 4Q), 9 reb, 6 ast, 0 TO
Edwards: 20 pts on 7/18 FG, 4 ast, 2 stl, 2 blk
Nowell: Career-high 18 pts on 6/9 FG
Full stats: pic.twitter.com/c59hLn41N3