On December 27th in the star tribune Kevin Martin is quoted saying that the season actually starts after Christmas. Kevin Love mentioned how the wolves need to get back to their winning ways. For me, these quotes are tough to hear. What winning ways? A 13-15 record is not awful, but if the season actually starts now Portland and OKC are still in vastly better position. Apparently the first act of the 2013-14 season is over. Now in this second act, the Wolves need to make a run. With a break from the grueling schedule of act one, the wolves the begin act two, having taking care of Washington, facing off against Milwaukee, and Phoenix, before hosting the efficient San Antonio Spurs.
Will the MinneSNOWta T-puppies come out as hungry wolves? Will they rise, together as a pack and run, and bite and claw their way to their goals? Or will they fade away, tail between their legs, discouraged, relegated to eat the scraps of the NBA feast?
In this second act, the wolves have to come out hungry. They sound like they aim to do just that, but they need to back up their quotables with their play. Here are two things that need to happen in order for the Wolves to continue their quest for a Playoff birth.
First, just like a pack of Timberwolves on the hunt, this team must remain focused. In order to take down a Moose, wolves must lock their eyes, and their salivating mouths, on their prey, like heat seeking missiles. During act one of this NBA season the wolves failed to find consistency in their focus. Players, not named Kevin Love, frequently exuded a cautiousness, a lack of urgency. Ricky Rubio either steps into the spotlight commanding the attention of his famous name, or wallows in the shadows, getting by natural, or supernatural, talent passing the basketball. Kevin Martin shrinks from his assassin-like scoring skills, when he hits a cold streak or doesn’t get his calls from the officials. Corey Brewer either locks in, sensing everything around him, or he microscopes into tunnel vision where he can’t seem to do anything right. Pek either muscles his way into expert low post position, or he defers, and simply goes about his Adlemanian business, of setting hulking screens and cautiously passing out of the high post. I could go on. (I don’t even want to get started on J.J. Barea, Alexey Shevd, or Dante Cunningham.) This pack of wolves needs to take on the personality of their Alpha Male. Kevin Love has his eyes honed on the prize. His focus is otherworldly. He’s effort is undeniable and the beads of sweat on his forehead, scratches, scrapes and bruises on his body are a testament to it.
Secondly, like a pack if Timberwolves on the hunt, this team must play united. Take the Timberwolves “United We-Run” marketing pitch the heart! This is what a good basketball team does. A wolf pack hunts like a three man weave. Every wolf knows where it’s meant to be. It’s organized chaos. It’s teamwork at it’s finest. Countless times this season the Timberwolves have lost a lead or failed to off to a great start, because they failed to play as a pack. This team, like a pack of wolves in the wild, cannot legitimately go at it as individuals. It doesn’t work. If Timberwolves in the wild go rouge, they don’t get dinner. Same thing with the Minnesota basketball wolves. Rick Adelman’s team doesn’t have even one super-giant-hyper-quick-thermonuclear-saber-toothed-dog in their ranks that can effectively carry a team on their own. Only a couple of teams actually do have super-giant-hyper-quick-thermonuclear-saber-toothed-dogs on their rosters and those individuals are named Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Kevin Love is a legit alpha male but his production comes in direct connection to the play of his pack, the players around him. In this way he’s similar to a super star like Reggie Miller. He comes off screens to hit shots. He does not break down a defense all by himself but he does what he does very very well and always give 100% effort. But he is in no way saber-toothed or hyper-quick. He can get thermonuclear of occasion, however, we saw that when he started raining three point shots in the West Texas dessert, but I digress. When the wolves play united, and execute their best plays in the half court, they’ve proven to be very effective.
Two things that make a hungry pack of wolves something for nature to contend with: focus and unity. They are broad ideas, yes, but applied to the wolves “fire & ice”, out of sync season, it’s fair to say the wolves need to look to their mascot for guidance. (Not sure if Crunch really counts, but he’s cool too…)
Currently, the Timberwolves are not in the hunt as NBA world breakers. But they are in the hunt for a playoff birth. Their shooting has been streaky at best, but has hovered consistently close to the fair-to-poor range. Their defense is spotty at best. Remarkably, in a game in which getting buckets and stopping the other team from getting buckets is essential, the Minnesota Timberwolves, despite their glaring deficiencies, have faired quite well. They’ve even been great at times. If the wolves can hone in on their goals, and play within themselves as a unit, Minnesota basketball fans are in for a treat. It will be a wild ride. Of course some of the wolves “fire & ice” nature is simply that: it’s their nature as a team and as individual players. This team is streaky, and relies on the bursts of efficient scoring their offense can produce. The key will be finding a way to batten down the hatches and save ship when the opponent puts together their own runs.
Thankfully, I do not see the wolves turning into mangey little stray dogs, gnawing on bones and scraps in the Tijuana City Dump. I believe they will fight on and should contend for on of the Western Conferences top eight spots. The return of Chase Budinger will bring a needed addition to the struggling bench, as well as provide another shooter who can space the floor in the half court. Chase is a sure fire stud in Adelman’s system, with his corner three proficiency and knack for off-ball basket cuts. This will be fun to see when he’s healthy enough to return. Even so, the Timeberwolves season will not result in great success if the team continues its tendency to be go passive and/or go rouge. Focus and unity are key for the wolves success. I’d argue wolves fans saw that in the victory over the Washington Wizards. After a shaky start Kevin Love came roaring back scoring eleven consecutive points for the wolves, and they never looked back. They showed good effort on defense, keeping John Wall out of the paint and executed offensively as a unit with precision. Even Alexey Shved was engaged on both sides of the floor. Beating Washington is a bigger deal than it should be for this team, and it must be said that beating Milwaukee would be a big deal as well. Will this team come into the Bradley Center as a pack of hungry wolves? or as a disjointed group of sad stray puppies?
Side note: I think it will be fun to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo tonight. He has been a huge bright spot for the Bucks so far this season, proving the greek freaks doubters wrong. It appears as though his B level greek league experience hasn’t left him lost in the shuffle of NBA skill sets and advanced basketball terminology. He’s stepped up to the plate and looks like he’s poised to blossom into a stud. (That’s an odd usage of floral imagery, but I stand by it.) He actually looks like an the kind of player that would be a happy disciple of Ricky Adelman. He’s a willing passer. He’s able to shoot from the outside. He can handle the ball and he even shows a Budinger-esque knack for backdoor basket cuts. Anyway he’ll be fun to watch, but most of that could be my half-greek blood talking.