Wolves venting: Playing down to the competition

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 9: Karl-Anthony Towns. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 9: Karl-Anthony Towns. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves are 0-6 on the road against Eastern Conference teams that are currently in the lottery, along with several other tough losses to subpar opponents. It’s time to address this ballooning irritation.

Whether it be family, work, school, roommates, or any other aspect of life that has the prospect of bringing stress, venting can sometimes be the most therapeutic exercise a human can do to diffuse their frustration.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, and their incredible ability to defy human norms and actually lay eggs against every bad team in the NBA – especially on the road, is a case where this exercise may be extremely necessary. This point also includes close victories over inferior opponents, which we just saw with the Sacramento Kings giving the Wolves all they could handle on Sunday night.

So, before I get to the rational thinking of realizing the Wolves are still very good, and still hold a top four seed in the Western Conference, and still understand bad losses happen to every single NBA team throughout a season, let’s just take some time to give passionate Wolves fans what they are clamoring for and allow them to vent their vexations through reading this article.

Where are we right now?

The Timberwolves lost last Friday to the lowly Chicago Bulls in a primetime showdown (yes, the same Bulls that a significant amount of the Wolves organization has a massive incentive to obliterate) after holding a 17-point lead in the second half, by a score of 114-113.

This was an incredibly disturbing loss, compounded (or maybe blurred, depending on your player allegiances) by Zach LaVine being the player that put yet another shocking nail in the Wolves coffin against a miserable Eastern Conference opponent.

Now this loss by itself isn’t enough to send even the most fervent Wolves fans into a panic. But, when added to the fact that Minnesota is now just 2-11 in their last 13 road games (for a full road-woe breakdown, click


), with losses coming to cellar dweller teams like the Orlando Magic, the Atlanta Hawks, and now the Bulls, we may be transitioning from a point of justified frustration to full-blown apprehension.

Even the Cleveland Cavalier game, with their recent public feuds and unparalleled dysfunction which could make one argue they are also a bad team (at least when the Timberwolves played them), could be added to the rapidly growing list of NBA squads that Minnesota decides to take lightly and give every chance to win when they don’t deserve to based off of talent. Same goes for the recent Kings game.

What needs to be vented?

This list could become quite lengthy, so let’s just hit on the obvious things.

Even the most casual NBA fan could detect the lack of energy the Wolves bring to games against inferior competition – especially on the road. It’s sometimes like the Wolves players are bored with the idea of coasting to easy wins, so they come out with minimal liveliness in order to create a contest that is close, only to give the opponent just enough confidence to steal a victory at the end based off of either poor execution by the players or brutal late-game strategy by the coaching staff.

Speaking of that poor execution by the players, almost everyone on the roster who plays a significant amount has contributed in some way to these struggles. Most notably, and perhaps the most appropriate to place blame on due to their responsibilities and compensation to and from the team, are stars Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler.

More from Dunking with Wolves

Towns has had his issues with getting substantial shot attempts over the last month, and while the contributions to this issue are not entirely his fault (as Dunking With Wolves has touched on here), he must shoulder some of the blame as his intensity and desire to gain good positioning has seemed to lack greatly at times.

Jimmy Butler, who has been amazing in nearly every way and should be afforded every inch of slack possible due to his complete awesomeness and impact on this season’s turnaround, has also been a hindrance in the flow of fourth quarter offensive fluidity. He too often holds the ball for a majority of the shot clock, leading to incredibly difficult shots for either himself or teammates that do not have a high probability of going into the basket.

Andrew Wiggins, as he almost always is, is the quiet culprit for some of these issues as well. He almost always is the most physically gifted player on the floor, routinely given matchups that he should be able to exploit given his amazing talent and size, yet he disappears in the games biggest moments and allows himself to not make an impact when his abilities are needed most.

Jeff Teague, whose struggles and subpar reputation amongst Wolves’ fans, contributes to these woes also with his sometimes-waning focus and defensive shortcomings. Nemanja Bjelica has been about as up-and-down as an NBA player can be so far this season and hasn’t consistently shown up against poor teams. Jamal Crawford is supremely fun, but his actual contributions rarely outshine his flaws and he is generally a net negative on the floor, at times allowing teams to keep the games closer than they should be. To top it off, every player is responsible for the awful defense the team has played over the last few weeks.

And perhaps the man who holds the most culpability is head coach Tom Thibodeau. There has been no shortage of moments this season where Thib’s late-game strategic decision making has left much to be desired. He has an incessant need to micromanage every late-game possession, often times burning through timeouts too early that could be used to advance the basketball when the game clock inches closer to zero. This would be less of a problem if Thibs after-timeout plays were superiorly choreographed, but far too often the Wolves’ play sets after timeouts greatly lack in creativity and become incredibly predictable for opponents.

Maintaining perspective.

Alright, that felt good. Now after getting all of the frustration vented out and allowing for a clear mind to take over, let’s view the current Timberwolves situation rationally.

The Wolves just beat Sacramento (albeit with many of the aforementioned issues being very apparent throughout), bringing their record to 35-24, just one game behind the Spurs for the 3 seed in the Western Conference.

But, if the Timberwolves are to do more than just tread water and actually make a surge up the standings, these issues must be shored up. The defense must become a priority. Intensity needs to be brought on a nightly basis, regardless of opponent. All players must recognize the lost opportunities to book wins against teams who should have no standing to beat the Wolves might hurt in the end when attempting to overtake San Antonio for the third seed.

Next: Minnesota Timberwolves 2018 NBA Draft big board 1.0

There is a great opportunity for the Wolves to make some noise this postseason based off of their talent. In order for them to put themselves into the best possible position to do this, they have to stop lacking focus against bad teams. We’ll just have to wait and see if they can turn this tendency around.