With the possible exception of the loss in Toronto way back on November 2, tonight’s 103-95 loss in Portland was likely the ugliest wire-to-wire performance from the Timberwolves thus far. The Trail Blazers were somehow able to score 28 points in the first quarter, and it should have been obvious that the Wolves would be in for a bumpy ride from that point on. Indeed, Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews took it from there.
Early in the first quarter, the revolving door of J.J. Hickson, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Meyers Leonard tried (and failed) to put up some semblance of feeble resistance to Nikola Pekovic. No one on Portland’s embarrassingly shallow roster stood a prayer of slowing down, much less stopping the hulking Montenegrin. Unfortunately, Pekovic quickly got himself into foul trouble with a ticky-tack foul on the defensive end and an illegal screen on the offensive end of the floor, dramatically shifting the dynamic of the game.
The Wolves’ second unit of J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Josh Howard, Dante Cunningham, and Louis Amundson went into the second quarter with a 33-28 lead and played quite well, even pushing the lead as high as 13 points. As the pace quickened, however, Damian Lillard was able to take advantage of the Wolves’ small and comparatively un-athletic backcourt. It didn’t seem to matter whether it was Barea, Shved, or Luke Ridnour trying to guard Lillard. Nobody could stay in front of him, and the fact that Lillard could coolly knock down wide open three pointers was apparently not conveyed to the Minnesota defense. They just let him shoot. Over and over and over.
Yes, Damian Lillard’s 28 points on 11-17 shooting (4-8 from three-point range) looks very, very nice. And it was. But to anyone who watched the game, this was simply a case of an older, slower, and physically worn down Luke Ridnour being completely and utterly unable to stay in front of a young, athletic rookie like Lillard. Ridnour was unable to get around the ball-screens set by Portland, and Lillard was able to take the ball into the lane at will.
This is the exact same scenario that we saw play out against Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Bobcats a little over a week ago. It is becoming more and more painfully obvious: the number one reason the Timberwolves miss Ricky Rubio is for his fantastic perimeter defense. His length, athleticism, and anticipation completely alter the opposing team’s offensive approach, and simply cannot be replaced or accounted for.
In watching Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews quickly and effectively pick the Wolves apart in the second half on Friday night, one could not help but wonder why Adelman did not have Malcom Lee shadowing Lillard everywhere he went. Lee possesses the best combination of length, athleticism, effort, and defensive skill at the guard spot on the team, and would have likely held his own against Lillard if given the chance. Other than a terrible travel on a fastbreak early in the game, Lee played his best basketball since being inserted into the starting lineup a few games ago. Adelman played Josh Howard at shooting guard for a portion of the second half anyway, so a Lee-Howard backcourt, while lacking in ball-handling prowess, would have at least limited Portland’s initial penetration and the high pick-and-roll to some extent.
I appreciated Wolves’ color analyst Jim Peterson repeating near the end of the game, “In Adelman I trust”, as his rotations and defensive match-ups had me shaking my head during this particular game. Love sat on the bench until there were under six minutes remaining in the game and the Wolves were down by eleven points. While the Wolves play at Golden State tomorrow night in the second night of a back-t0-back, Friday night in Portland was a very winnable game. Still, the key word here is patience. Wolves fans hate that word, but it certainly applies to this current group of players. This is still only the second game that the Wolves have used this ten-man rotation, and they have not even practiced together to this point. Things will get better, and if they can shore up the two-guard position sooner rather than later, they will get better a lot faster.
– Kirilenko’s stats have been decidedly less gaudy in Love’s first two games back. It is of some worry that he will become lost in the offensive shuffle, and I would have loved to have seen a Cunningham-Kirilenko-Love backcourt for longer than a couple of minutes tonight after Pekovic picked up his second foul. I’m going to have to back and watch it, but I’m pretty sure that the lineup of Ridnour-Shved-Cunningham-Kirilenko-Love had a net positive on the scoreboard at the end of the first quarter.
– Derrick Williams recorded his second DNP-CD in a row. We’re at the point where I’m not sure if sitting him completely is helping or hurting his trade value. Does he even have trade value? We don’t know that, either. Time will tell, but I would venture to guess he’s traded before Christmas.
– Love and Pekovic shot a combined 22-28 (78%) from the free throw line on Friday night. No team should lose if their starting frontcourt shoots 28 (TWENTY-EIGHT!) free throws. Oh, and LaMarcus Aldridge shot just 6-13 from the floor and had a final line of 13 points, 6 rebounds, no blocks, no assists, no steals, and 2 turnovers. And fouled out. He was awful.
– The Wolves frontcourt was vastly better than the Blazers frontcourt, and the Blazers backcourt clearly outplayed the Wolves backcourt. It turned into a Lillard-Matthews three-point shootout against a Pekovic-Love free-throw-athon. What a weird, ugly game.
– The Wolves will play at the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, November 24 at 9:30 p.m. CST.