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Confused by Anthony Randolph? I am too, so I spent the last couple days looking at video of the games around when he fell out of the rotation to try and see what Adelman and co. were seeing. The results may astonish you and are up over at Hardwood Paroxysm.

Steve McPherson

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So once again I was lucky enough to sit courtside for what turned out to be not-a-trainwreck between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Timberwolves last night. The final score of 115-110 was much better than my predicted 110-80 and the swoon I kept expecting in the second half never happened. It seemed like the halftime score of 59-58 simply indicated that the Thunder hadn’t yet decided to play defense, but even when they tried to step on the Wolves’ throat at the beginning of the third, said throat proved rather resilient.

As Zach Harper pointed out, Barea and Westbrook couldn’t guard each other, with Barea ending up with 24 points and Westbrook 35. The Wolves’ best defender on Westbrook? Amazingly enough, it was Anthony Randolph, who managed to draw a charge late in the game that almost tipped things in the Wolves’ favor. Just prior to that play, Westbrook made a pretty thunderously dumb play. After Harden’s missed 3, Westbrook jumped up and literally grabbed Randolph’s arm as he was going for the rebound. Here’s the video:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yJ2ffZ4uxw]

And here’s a still of the actual moment when he grabbed Randolph. Of particular note is the clock.

The Thunder were up 7 points with 49.6 seconds left and Westbrook is clearly outnumbered going for this rebound with three Timberwolves packed into the paint around him. One of Westbrook’s greatest strengths is his engine, his intensity, but here it gets him into trouble. Instead of letting the rebound go and forcing the Wolves to run time off the clock setting up a play, he stops the clock with the foul and sends Randolph to the line where he cuts the lead to 5. Then, on the ensuing play, Randolph draws the charge:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fV44-jjBXGw]

Although Westbrook at least takes some time off the clock, an iso play still doesn’t seem like the best option. You can see Kevin Durant set a screen, but Westbrook clearly sees the matchup against Randolph as a mismatch, but it doesn’t pay off. Michael Beasley’s layup on the next play cuts the lead to 5, but then immediately the Thunder take advantage of the Wolves not getting back and Durant gets an open lane to the basket for an emphatic dunk.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9qBGiZs9k8]

You can see the confusion that settles quickly over the Wolves after Beasley’s impressive layup. As Kendrick Perkins goes to inbound the ball Randolph and Barea are doubling Westbrook, but where is Beasley going?


Durant is wide open near the sideline and Beasley is badly out of position to stop him. One hesitation dribble and he’s off. Durant might not be a speed demon like Westbrook, but he uses his speed well. If he had just gone flat-out for the hoop, he probably would have made it, but that hesitation gets Beasley off balance and lets Durant fly.

That whole sequence was pretty indicative of the game as a whole. The Thunder played solidly if a little loosely while the Wolves kept fighting and clawing, eventually scratching themselves in the process.

Two last things, courtesy of former NBA player Trent Tucker, whom I got to sit next to. At one point in the third quarter, Tucker called out to referee Dan Crawford. They exchanged greetings and then Crawford said, “Every time I see you, I think, ‘We have to watch replays because of you,’” in reference to the Trent Tucker Rule, which the league enacted because of a play where Tucker, then playing for the Knicks, caught an inbounds pass from Mark Jackson and hoisted a shot that won the game with a tenth of a second left on the clock. Now there must be at least three-tenths of a second left on the clock in order for a player to secure possession and take a shot.

Tucker kept pointing out during the game that Nikola Pekovic was playing too far off his man when Westbrook ran the pick and roll, allowing Westbrook to get clear looks at the basket from midrange. I went to the videotape and, sure enough, he’s right. Here you can see four examples of Pekovic shading too low to guard Westbrook once he gets by the screen:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Obq5FWC9A4]

It seems to me this speaks to the looseness of the Wolves without anchors like Love and Rubio. Playing with lineups that they’re not used to, it seems like the Wolves’ players are less sure of their roles and what each of them should be doing at any given time. It’s no great time to give Westbrook the midrange jumper since he’s not a great jump shooter, but he’s also not Rajon Rondo; he can hit them. Plus, the Thunder rely so heavily on Durant and Westbrook, why not leave Kendrick Perkins and turn Westbrook into a passer? When the starters go down, it seems like the pieces don’t interlock as well, the rotations aren’t as crisp. The team as a whole looks a little more provisional, like they’ve just been thrown together. Kudos to them for showing some fight against the presumptive Western Conference champs, but it’s hard to know what to make of a game like that. The best Wolves fans can hope for is that this last batch of games gives the team a better idea of whom to keep and whom to let go this offseason.

Steve McPherson

“Don’t wake up the sleeping dragon.”
– Ryan Doumit, April 10, 2012.

Ryan Doumit likely didn’t realize he was creating the next great Twins nickname when he conjured that adorable image before Charlie Walters following the team’s fourth straight loss, the first time they’d opened a season so miserably since 1969. Nor did he likely expect his words to be quite so prescient, despite the fact that rest of the quote makes him look like Nostra-Doumit: “History suggests that we’re going to wake up. We’ve got some thump in this lineup … You look at some of the track records of the guys here, it doesn’t matter (which pitcher) you throw out there, we’re going to get our hits.”

Doumit still hasn’t gotten his hits, he wasn’t around last year so his handle on history is iffy at best, and he’s played his entire career with the Pirates, lending even less credence to his theory that sleeping dragons eventually wake up. And yet he was right.

The Angels didn’t throw just any two pitchers at the Twins during the next two games; they threw two fringe Cy Young candidates in Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. And, remarkably, the Twins woke up and got their hits. Twenty-six in 48 hours to along with 16 runs, two wins, and enough power to make Target Field look like positively band-boxy. I know, it’s just two victories, the Twins still aren’t likely to be a .500 team, and yesterday’s come-from-behind thriller was really just the silver lining on a day already marred with the news that Scott Baker’s season—and his Twins career, probably—are kaput. Still. After muddling through last season’s misery, the restorative effects of visions like this:

… and this:

… are incalculable. Look at that first gif for a while: The sight of Joe Mauer turning on an inside fastball is such a rare and beautiful thing that I could watch it all day. “Smooth” and “sweet” don’t begin to describe it. It’s a glimpse of the absolute, a motion to be preserved and revered, like Da Vinci sketches and saintly relics. Morneau’s swing is the polar opposite: violent and angry, an ungraceful expression of sheer power that’s every bit as fun to watch as Mauer’s if only for the fact that every mammoth Morneau swing might be his last. That’s the sad truth that every Twins fan has to live with this season, and it makes moments like this one even more savory. These early home runs from the middle of the order are all the more cathartic given last year’s power outage and injury problems, which so enveloped the Twins fanbase that we’d all but forgotten what it was like to watch our team hit go-ahead homeruns against good teams. I’d not only lost hope that the Twins could do such a thing, I’d forgotten it was even possible. And then Morneau drove in Mauer. What was once such a natural occurrence, which had become an impossibility, was suddenly possible again. It felt like waking up indeed. Like our long, statewide nightmare was finally over.

Funny how things can turn around. And, of course, they can turn around again just as quickly. I’m not delusional: I still don’t think this is a .500 team. Prior to the season I would’ve told you that in order for the Twins to compete, they would at the very least need Liriano and Baker to be healthy and productive all season long, and it’s looking like neither will be. (There’s still hope for Liriano, but how many times can you say that before it isn’t true anymore?)

But that’s the great thing about a nickname like “the sleeping dragon.” It works even when the Twins slump again, which they will. All teams do. It’s just nice to know that waking up is an option again.

Chuck Terhark

Last night’s horrific loss to the visiting Phoenix Suns couldn’t have looked any further removed from the Timberwolves’ other nationally televised game, their 101-98 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers back on January 20. That was the game that shot the Wolves into the national consciousness, that ended with back-to-back threes by Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. Here, in the dog days of the NBA, with teams tanking and jockeying for playoff seeds, the Wolves entered last night’s game limping from a five-game losing streak and a series of injuries that began with the loss of Rubio for the season and proceeded through lost games for Nikola Pekovic, Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea, and Michael Beasley. And it was an atrocious game to watch.

The Suns are in the mix for the last playoff spot in the West, a spot that at one time was the Wolves’ to lose. And lose it they did. Now Phoenix is in a tussle with Utah, Denver, and Dallas for the right to lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. And Wolves fans can’t help but look at that and say, “That was supposed to be our chance to lose in the first round.” For all the debate around the basketball Internet about tanking, tanking won’t even help the Wolves now since New Orleans owns the team’s first round pick. The best fans can hope for is Utah making the playoffs so the Wolves get theirs. Which isn’t much.

And so all that’s left is to play for pride, for some nebulous idea of finishing strong, of setting the tone for next year. It’s a familiar script for the Wolves’ faithful, a group that seems ready to throw the towel in pretty quick. Through March, Love put up historic numbers (leading the league in points, rebounds and three-pointers—something no other player has ever done) in an attempt to put the team on his back, but it’s become clear that most of the team’s heart just isn’t in it, and it’s affecting Love. He looks exhausted, frustrated. And so the rumblings have started about how dissatisfied he must be with the team, how he must look at the contract extension he signed and wonder how he even gave the Wolves three years to figure this out when the team is so terrible.

This is what you hear a lot, but is it really what Love is thinking? I wouldn’t blame him if he were, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s managing to take a longer view than the typical fan. When this team was firing on all cylinders this year, with Rubio controlling the point and Love and Pekovic destroying teams down low, they looked better than they have in years. When it was working, it was a little easier to overlook the startling weakness of the wings, to excuse Martell Webster’s often head-scratching play, to believe that all Anthony Randolph needed was Rubio to make him the player he always seemed like he could become. That team, the team from February and early March, looked like a solid foundation to build on.

The thing is, beneath the injuries, it’s still there. You can hardly lay Rubio’s injury at the feet of management—it’s just that that injury and the others have exposed management’s other missteps. Take Ridnour, for example. As the team’s starting PG, he was just all right. But put into the role of the secondary point guard on the floor and he put up quietly impressive numbers. There’s just no way you trot out J.J. Barea and Malcolm Lee in your backcourt and expect them to produce like Rubio and Ridnour. Any player needs to find a role that suits him and Barea needs to come off the bench and be a firecracker. Ask anything more and the whole thing starts falling apart. At times, Beasley even looked like maybe he had found his niche off the bench. But now that the discipline of the team has eroded, Beasley has looked lackadaisical. And of course there’s the problem of Wes Johnson, who seem to keep slipping further and further from being a useful basketball player.

So is Love pissed? Clearly and justifiably. But I sort of doubt he’s really throwing in the towel as readily as fans are ready to throw it in for him. With Rubio, he was changing the culture of the team but it didn’t get to marinate long enough to soak all the way down. Consider people who’ve been in a series of disappointing relationships. When they find someone they genuinely connect with, they go all in, shoving their chips into the middle of the table. They last three, maybe four months. And then when it ends through no fault of their own, through no fault of anyone’s but just through circumstance, it hurts a hundred times as much as when those more insubstantial relationships ended. Both the team and the fans went all in for the team they wanted to be, knew they could be. But a couple months of wins, the dubious milestone of reaching .500, none of this can truly change the bedrock insecurity and resignation of a fanbase and team so often beaten down. It’s going to take time.

There’s every reason to believe that Rubio comes back next year as good as ever. He might not be all the way back right away, but fortunately his game is predicated on vision, smarts, and length, not quickness and athleticism. It seems unlikely that Love or Pekovic will regress, and it’s likely that at least some of the players who’ve been disappointing towards the end of the season will be culled: if the Wolves don’t pick up any options, Beasley, Webster, Randolph and Tolliver won’t return. Brad Miller has announced his retirement.

There’s no denying that the Timberwolves are painful to watch right now, but I don’t see them as a fatally flawed team so much as one where the constituent parts are out of balance. Starters are hurt and playing too many or too few minutes in light of that; bench guys are playing out of position and playing too much. They’re like a five-piece rock band trying to play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony right now. This season that started with so much promise actually lived up to it at times, and that’s a lot more than we can say for any of the last few seasons. This feeling right now is familiar: the feeling of things not working out, of being out of control. But the Timberwolves and the Wolves fans just need to get back out there next year and get something on the rebound. Luckily, we have one of the game’s best on the boards for at least three more years.