The Wolves started fast on the second night of a back-to-back, jumping out to a 33-27 lead by the end of the first quarter.
But the legs wore out quickly, and Minnesota fell to 1-10 on road games that fall on the tail end of back-to-backs. Gorgui Dieng played a game-high 38 minutes and posted an insane line: 22 points, 21 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, zero blocks, and zero turnovers. More of a Kevin Love line than what one might expect out of Dieng, but the rookie big man was once again effective.
From the tip-off, it was painfully apparent that Gamblin’ Corey Brewer didn’t have a prayer of guarding James Harden, and Brewer was equally putrid on offense. In the opening six minutes, Brewer was beat twice off the dribble while gambling for a steal, had the ball taken directly from him while dribbling in the open court, and missed a wide open jumper badly.
Ultimately, Brewer was only on the court for 17 minutes, but he was beyond awful, and as it turns out, your “perimeter defensive stopper” can’t have a serious off-night when facing James Harden. And to compound matters, Kevin Martin was pretty bad, too. He only played 20 minutes, shooting 2 of 5 from the floor and scoring just six points. And there was no way he was going to be able to check Chandler Parsons on defense, either.
To Rick Adelman’s credit, he did identify the defensive issue early in the contest by inserting Luc Richard Mbah a Moute into the lineup, but one man (plus Dieng and Ricky Rubio) can only do so much when surrounded by sub-par and/or unwilling defensive teammates.
The curious and frustrating part of the rotations deployed by Adelman is the all-bench crew that plays so much of the second and fourth quarters. On Thursday night, The Wolves began the second quarter with a lineup that consisted of J.J. Barea, Chase Budinger, Robbie Hummel, Mbah a Moute, and Dante Cunningham. Not an efficient or effective offensive performer among them.
And while they began the quarter on a decent run, it was obviously unsustainable, and the Wolves never got close to regaining the offensive momentum that they enjoyed early in the first quarter. After taking a 41-31 lead with just under ten minutes left in the first half, things started downhill quickly. Houston went on a 17-0 run with the aforementioned bench lineup on the court.
Adelman did not reinsert his starters until the damage was done — a ten-point lead turned into a seven-point deficit in the blink of an eye. And of course, it was all five starters returning at the 5:30 mark. An all-bench lineup for a fateful six minutes and thirty seconds of game time before the starting lineup returned.
The final 34 minutes of the game were entirely disappointing and deflating, but the burst to start the game was intriguing. Dieng posted a 10 point, 9 rebound first quarter, and his presence in the lane on defense was noticeable as well. The shot-blocker-next-to-Love test has been fascinating, and Dieng has been very, very impressive.
All things considered, this was essentially a case of playing on the second night of a back-to-back, playing on the road, and playing a team that is simply superior to Minnesota. The rotations have been an issue for the majority of the season, and the hockey-style line changes are the main issue. It’s baffling, really, coming from a coach that has been notorious for riding his starters for heavy minutes and generally under-utilizing his bench.
Well, he doesn’t really have an effective bench right now, and yet he insists on using all-bench lineups. Granted, not having Nikola Pekovic at his disposal has absolutely limited Adelman’s options, but it doesn’t necessarily excuse the bench-only groups.
At any rate, the Wolves played an impressive opening quarter that was thrown away all too quickly. Let’s hang onto that feeling, and hope that it can return, if for a few fleeting moments from time-to-time during the final few weeks of the season.
Next up, a rare Target Center matinee against the Phoenix Suns. The game tips off at 2:30 CT in Minneapolis on Sunday. The Wolves record is back to 34-33, and they’ll have a chance to get another game closer to the Suns in the ninth spot in the West.