Over the course of the NBA season, the dreariness of the pandemic in the NBA has become normalized. We are used to tarped-off stands, piped-in fan noise, and the drudgery of the Timberwolves. But sitting here in the Target Center as the lights dim and the center court lights up for the protracted entry show for the team replete with howls and strobe lights, it feels anything but normal. The fifteen or so scribes sitting in the arena charting the team’s demise are reminded that fighting is prohibited and that unruly fans will be escorted out of the building. If I see something, such as another media member across the arena slipping down their mask to sneak a sip of water, I am supposed to say something.
Thus, it is understandable that the players would like nothing else for this season to be over, or at least afforded a small break, particularly as the losses mount up. But perhaps the players are so used to playing within their own bubble on the court, ignoring the fans and noise around them, that they can simply shut off the absence of energy rather than its presence. After all, shutting out the ruckus of the T-shirt cannon brigade must strengthen the resolve of any soul.
But perhaps not. It is was all too easy to see the team deflate when the Hornets went on a run in the second quarter. The Wolves were able to claw back to end the half down six, but inflection points, like Towns exiting early in the first half after drawing his third foul, felt like the air was being sucked out of an already empty balloon. Or in the third quarter when Ricky had the ball poked away from behind when starting a fast break and three Wolves walked back as the Hornets subsequently hit a wide-open three. There are too many bobbled balls, passes into the unknown, and perpetual sniping after miscues for it to be normal.
And it shouldn’t be. The Wolves had yet another game where they played like a typical NBA team for part of the game and then quickly slid into garbage time by the third quarter. The Hornets went on a run and both teams realized the game was over. The Hornets stopped trying and messed around on offense, picking apart the porous Wolves defense. The Wolves lost the third quarter 36-20.
But yet, with the Wolves, it is not just that they are losing by twenty, the game is just over. The Hornets did not play tighter and or exude nervousness when the Wolves made a few shots. The Wolves are just as apt to come back down, launch a three-pointer that hits nothing but the backboard, then let up a lob dunk when someone isn’t paying attention. To whit, the Hornets started the fourth quarter going on a 20-4 run against the supposedly striving Wolves.
This break is necessary to decide if the Wolves are a real team or deserve relegation to the nether world of blowing up the roster yet again.
As for the actual game, Jake Layman started in place of Josh Okogie, leaving Jarred Vanderbilt to guard Gordon Hayward. The Hornets promptly isolated Hayward against Vanderbilt at every opportunity. Layman played well, showing the cutting chops that many thought would be better expressed when he played with good passers like Ricky Rubio and Karl-Anthony Towns.
The battle of the heralded rookies failed to materialize in the first half. LaMelo Ball was careless with the basketball, but he has clearly established himself as a threat to throw the lob while driving in. The Wolves bigs shied away towards their man, leaving Ball an open path to the rim when available. But for every highlight pass, there was a pass directly to the other team. His scoring is real though, as he solidly knocked down threes and made some easy buckets at the rim. Ball finished with 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in a seemingly pedestrian outing.
Anthony Edwards had another tough night. This was one of the first games I have seen Ant get stripped multiple times on the way to the rim. He ended up with 19 points, but shot 8-23 from the floor and 1 of 10 from beyond. The less said about his defensive awareness the better.
There were a few new wrinkles tonight. Josh Okogie and Juancho Hernangomez were out of the rotation, with Jaden McDaniels getting his longest run yet under the new coach. McDaniels had a rough offensive night, ending 0-4 from beyond the arc. Ricky Rubio and Jake Layman had the best games among the Wolves, each providing a respective 20 and 14 points. Karl-Anthony Towns struggled with foul trouble and generally had a bad game even if the stats belie a typical showing. The Wolves shot 9 of 40 from beyond the arc on an evening when Ricky Rubio hit four of his six three-point attempts.
The team is heading into the break with a nine-game losing streak and look every bit the part of the worst team in the league. We can only hope the next chapter is different.
To get through the evening - The Oaxacan Old Fashioned
- 1 1/2 ounces reposado tequila
- 1/2 ounce mezcal
- 1 teaspoon agave nectar (or simple syrup)
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Happy All-Star Break!