It took 2.5 quarters for the Minnesota Timberwolves to make the decision to play defense. On paper, deciding to play defense is a good thing. In this case, the timing was misguided, and it came 2.5 quarters too late.
The Charlotte Hornets came into Target Center Friday night and did whatever they wanted offensively. They forced the Wolves to collapse, zipped it out to open shooters, and took advantage of lazy switches and communication late in the game. LaMelo Ball looked like a previous iteration of Magic Johnson at points that just seemed unnecessary.
While things got better in the second half on that end, it’s a relative viewpoint to take. Minnesota failed to contain the ball at any level in the first half, and it resulted in an 18-win team putting up 72 points.
There's no other way around it just being a really bad half of basketball.— Andrew Carlson (@andrew_carlson2) February 25, 2023
Edwards: 5/12 FG, 15 points
LaMelo: 6/10, 18 points, 7 REB, 5 AST
Charlotte puts SEVENTY TWO (72) in a half. Defense has to get better in the second.
A frustrated Chris Finch preached the same message to a choir of cameras; a eulogy that wears thin on him included.
“We waited too long to get into this game,” he said. “The defense was not very good in the first half in particular. [Charlotte] shot damn near 60 percent.”
It isn’t because the Wolves can’t defend. They’re one of the league’s top defenses when they get in rhythm. Instead, it’s been the same theme it’s been all year against the bottom five teams in the league.
“It was more about the effort early on than anything else,” Finch added. “The sense of urgency is just not there; we only have 7 homes games left...we’re not playing desperate enough.”
The Wolves have now lost to these five teams eight times this season— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) February 25, 2023
Final: Wolves 113, Hornets 121 pic.twitter.com/PPklZwnHsw
The D’Angelo Russell trade was supposed to bring a sense of stability to this team. The days of rolling the ball out against bad teams and getting smoked out were supposed to be curbed with the veteran leadership that was incoming, and therefore sprinkled into the fabric of a young core of players. That’s just not the case. There’s no more margin for error, and there just aren’t anymore hall passes to give.
Friday has been the case for the last couple months. There isn’t an identity to the way this team plays. Anthony Edwards and occasionally Jaden McDaniels are its sole identity. Late in the game against a team destined for the top five in the upcoming NBA Draft, that identity just wasn’t enough.
Edwards Continues Struggles in Clutch
There are games that show Anthony Edwards should be one of the only people releasing the ball out of his hand inside two minutes in the fourth quarter.
Anthony Edwards spin + jumper over LaMelo Ball pic.twitter.com/lVn2aAOOhk— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) February 25, 2023
But the majority of the sample size says the ball needs to leave his hands in the form of a pass to prevent things from being stagnant in the clutch. Friday was another example of that.
Edwards came out of the gate just a step slow. He came alive in the second half with excellent on-ball defense on LaMelo Ball at points, and hit a couple big shots to make the game close towards the end of the third and early parts of the fourth. But it was later in the game that needed to be sharper.
Edwards takes a staggering 37.5 percent of the Wolves’ shots in clutch time, and shoots 40 percent on said attempts (clutch time is when the score margin is within five points, with five minutes or fewer remaining in the game).
Ant shot 3-7 from the field in the fourth quarter, which includes his impact early in the quarter, and emphasizes his difficulties later in the game.
“Little too much hero ball right now,” Finch said. “He wants the ball, and it’s a big moment for him...it’s a big part of his growth curve, but he needs to keep making the right play and not force things that aren’t there.”
Some help would be great too. His wingman in Jaden McDaniels is shooting 22.2% in the clutch. Karl-Anthony Towns was shooting 26.7% before his injury. But his presence is needed, and Friday was maybe the most apparent it’s been that Edwards needs some attention taken off him.
Anthony Edwards agreed when asked if he feels there is more on his shoulders now offensively, and said "I'll be in the gym tomorrow morning working on shooting over two people."— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) February 25, 2023
Question: What has to happen going forward here?— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) February 25, 2023
Anthony Edwards: "Get big fella back. Hopefully soon. Yeah, that's the main thing."
The Wolves could win the next five games and all would feel great again. The reality is even if that were to happen, the team is still stuck. It’s one that you can put more faith in beating the first place Denver Nuggets than the bottom-feeding Detroit Pistons. Even against the aforementioned Nuggets, they’re a fitting .500 on the season. It’s a team that’s up, down, in the middle, and left scratching its head on what part of its game to fall back on in a pinch.
Until the reality of that changes, the gameplan for fans, instead of booing, should be similar to the product on the court playing out in front of them. Sit back, try and have some fun, and see if whatever is going on in front of you is worth reacting to, I guess.
Minnesota hits the road for a four-game West Coast road trip, which kicks off Sunday against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, who will still be without star Stephen Curry (knee). They will have Klay Thompson, though. The sharpshooter nailed 12 3-pointers in a 116-101 win over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.
The game tips at 6:30 PM CT on ESPN.