The long road trip just got a little longer after being blown out to a struggling Sacramento Kings team 115-99 on Sunday night. In what JJ Barea and others dubbed as the Timberwolves worst loss of the season, the Timberpups turned the ball over 21 times and played horrendous defense, relapsing into their former ways. It is easy to attribute the increased turnovers and breakdowns on defense to the absence of injured PG Ricky Rubio, but the fact remains that the T-Wolves cannot allow the loss of one player to affect their overall mentality as a team. Sure, what Rubio brings to the table is hard to find in other players in this league, but each player on the Timberwolves could take a note from Rubio’s book towards improving the team. Tricky Ricky possesses a court vision and passing ability that is second to no one, but the rest of his success on the court largely comes from his drive and hard work. Any one of the Timberwolves players could be a good defensive player with enough effort, for defense comes from within. Ricky was able to be one of the top PGs in the NBA while being one of the WORST shooters in the NBA. There are simply no excuses for the Wolves to continually allow their opponents to beat them down the court in transition, giving the opposing team easy 3 on 2s and 2 on 1s. I’m not saying that if everybody on this team works hard enough, they will each be a league leader in steals, because that will definitely not be the case. What I am saying is that this team, along with every team in the NBA, has the ability to have success defensively. Just ask Bo Ryan how he wins games with absolutely no offense. It is up to each player to individually look themselves in the mirror and decide just how much they want to win, because offense alone is not going to get this team anywhere. Just ask Mike D’Antoni. Ricky Rubio is gone and there is no bringing him back, and now it is time to find other ways to make up for the lack of offensive production they will face the rest of the season.
The Pups really missed Nikola Pekovic in this one, as they saw absolutely no production out of the center position and got beaten badly when going with an undersized lineup. Big Pek is questionable for tonight’s matchup against Golden State, and whether or not he can give it a go will really affect the Wolves game plan. The Warriors do not boast a strong defensive frontcourt, and Pek’s ability to get great inside position and finish through contact makes him a matchup nightmare for the sliding Warriors.
When Kevin Love shoots under 40% from the field, the Pups have generally had a very tough time getting W’s. K-Love got his double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds, but netted only 7 of his 20 field goal attempts. Without Rubio, Love faces the tough task of finding a way of getting more open looks. Look for Love to start on the low-post more against the Warriors tonight, as his jumper has not been falling as much as he would like lately. If the Wolves flow the offense through the low post and can get David Lee into early foul trouble, they should be able to put the Warriors against the wall early.
One last problem that needs addressing is the lack of production out of the Timberwolves wing players. To make things worse, Michael Beasley aggravated his injured toe and may not be available tonight. Although Wes Johnson has drastically improved his defense since the beginning of this season, he is quickly turning into a non-option on the offensive end. He continues to have a very poor shot selection and is hesitant to attack the rim like he did at Syracuse. We have seen a few great games from Wes this season, but the problem is that he is completely dependent on making deep 2s in order to be successful on offense. What Wes NEEDS to do is to look to drive as his first option every time that he gets the ball. Wes has a quick first step and has incredible athleticism that few players possess, allowing him to get to the rim and has good touch allowing him to finish effectively. If Wes can force his defenders to honor the drive, they will give him a step or two of cushion, which will allow Wes to have more room to take those long jumpers that he adores so much. There is no question that Wes has the ability to get to the hoop and finish, and we have all seen his pretty 3 point shot when he is shooting with confidence. As of right now, he has become content with being a role player who is watching the ends of games from the bench instead of being on the court. Does Wes have the drive to WANT to be the one taking the last shot in a close game? That is still up in the air. Does he have the ability to be a stud on the wing? No question about it.
Although it is not quite yet time to panic, the sense of urgency better be picking up in the Wolves clubhouse. I have all the confidence in the world that Coach Adelman will steer these lost, young talents in the right direction and to help them overcome the tremendous adversity facing them. However, it is going to take accountability from each individual to each contribute more than they are currently giving to the team in order to make up for the loss of their young leader, Ricky Rubio.