Tonight is depressing on a number of levels for Wolves fans.
Personally, I am troubled by the fact that a team with a 31-34 record has a comfortable hold on the 7th playoff spot in the Eastern Conference of what is supposed to be a professional basketball association. Yes, I should get over it, and no, I cannot. It’s a travesty, it’s embarrassing, and it evokes plenty of sour grapes from your truly.
Also, reality is still sinking in. I know the Wolves won’t make the playoffs, but crazy things happen from time-to-time. Then I look at the remaining schedules for the Mavericks and the Wolves, and reality sinks in further and more severely.
And in all fairness, the Bobcats are playing pretty well of late, so it isn’t like this is a walk in the park for Minnesota. They’ve won four of their last five contests, with their only loss coming in Memphis (of course) on the second night of a back-to-back. Charlotte has also won seven consecutive home games, dating back to a close, four-point loss to San Antonio way back on February 8th.
Tonight is far from a gimme, and at the same time, I feel comfortable in saying that it still doesn’t feel like Charlotte is a playoff team. In other words, I’m not sure I’ve been able to fully accept just how disappointing this Timberwolves team has been. It defies all logic.
For tonight, anyway, the Wolves need to focus on old friend Al Jefferson. Not that the Wolves have any great one-on-one post defenders on the team, and the lack of speed and urgency that they’ve displayed on their defensive rotations off of double-teams in the post doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence for tonight. Minnesota will rely on Ricky Rubio and Corey Brewer to double-team effectively without gambling an inordinate amount of times (likely impossible for Corey).
At the same time, the Wolves destroyed Charlotte at Target Center back in early January by a 119-92 score. Jefferson was stymied by Nikola Pekovic, putting up just 8 points and 7 rebounds while shooting 3 of 9 from the floor. Big Al has been playing much better of late, however, and Pekovic’s minutes and mobility are limited a bit in his return from bursitis in his ankles.
It’s not likely that Rick Adelman give Gorgui Dieng much of a chance tonight against Big Al, but I’m also not convinced that Jefferson is the type of player the Dieng would have much success against at this stage in his career (read: an overpowering, skilled post-player). But I also don’t think that Kevin Love and Dante Cunningham will be able to slow him down much, either. The Wolves will have to hang their hat on Pekovic being able to extend his minutes, and the double-teams from the perimeter coming quickly and successfully.
Charlotte doesn’t have much beyond Jefferson. Kemba Walker has absolutely improved, but he’s the only consistent performer on the squad. Newcomer (and near-Timberwolf) Gary Neal missed Wednesday’s game with an injury, and it’s unclear if he’ll be suiting up on Friday night.
This will be a decent test for the Wolves, but yet another game that they should be able to pull out. And if they can’t beat an under-.500 Eastern Conference playoff team on the road after two days of rest, they shouldn’t be in the playoffs anyways.
Tonight’s tilt tips at 6:00 CT. See you all back here afterwards.