Former Timberwolf Al Jefferson and newly-acquired Gary Neal had little trouble taking down a Timberwolves squad that seemed intent on giving a lackluster effort for the second-straight outing.
The Wolves went through the motions on Tuesday night, but were able to pull out a victory thanks to some late execution vs. the Bucks. Tonight, the Wolves allowed Charlotte to get any and every shot they wanted and as expected, the result was an easy win for the playoff-bound Cats.
The Wolves have had their defensive deficiencies this season and tonight was another key highlight as they didn't even try to stop the Bobcats from getting easy buckets. Charlotte found that out early and they just never let up, relentlessly attacking the rim against a listless Wolves squad.
The last time these two teams met, Al Jefferson scored 8 points in the first quarter and then was held scoreless for the remaining 36 minutes. Tonight he avenged that off-night with a 25 & 16 outing. Those are Love-like numbers, unfortunately Love didn't deliver anything close to what he's capable. Love finished with just 18 points & 6 rebounds in 36 minutes, despite matching up with mediocre defenders Josh McRoberts & rookie Cody Zeller the majority of the night.
Love scored 14 of his 18 points in the first quarter and my thought was that he was well on his way to a huge night. Instead he added another 4 points in the second quarter and then was held scoreless for the entire second half.
The Bobcats averaged just over 96 points per game which is bad enough for a bottom-five offense in the NBA. They make up for that with good defense allowing just over 97 points a night--good enough for a Top-five defense. The Wolves allowed the Bobcats to shoot 48% from the field and hit 8 three-pointers. They also were out-rebounded 35-54, edged in points in the paint 38-46 and on the break 10-17.
Just like on Tuesday night, the Wolves came in expecting to win. The difference between tonight's game and Tuesdays is that on Tuesday they were facing the worst team in the NBA and tonight they were going up against a playoff-bound Charlotte squad that has hung their hat on tough D this season.
Granted, if the Bobcats were a Western Conference team they'd be behind the Wolves in the standings and (before tonight's win) 7.5 games out of a playoff spot. Instead, they're the 7th seed out East. You also have to take into account that as an Eastern Conference team you see the NBA's worst teams 3-4 times (Milwaukee, Cleveland, Philadelphia, etc). If they played in the West they'd face those teams just twice and play 1-2 more games against the much more competitive West.
With all that information, all that you can take away is that the Wolves lost to yet another inferior squad and if you thought the playoffs were still a possibility, tonight's loss and the Wolves' effort has to have you thinking differently.
Tonight's box score...
The last time these two teams met, Nikola Pekovic led the team with 26 points and got the better of Big Al in the paint. Tonight, Pek played just 17 minutes and finished with 8 points & 4 rebounds. He played sparingly because of soreness in his ankle (the same one with bursitis). Whether he landed wrong on it or Adelman pushed him to hard playing him major minutes despite the trainers minute-restriction is unknown, but a playoff push becomes near impossible if the Wolves don't have Pekovic and Turiaf. Losing to three inferior Eastern Conference squads (New York, Toronto & Charlotte) the past week and a half doesn't help either.
The Wolves couldn't do anything to stop Jefferson. With Pek sidelined for the second half, they had to turn to Gorgui Dieng for some minutes matched up against Big Al. As expected, Jefferson took the rookie to school and had little trouble maneuvering for easy buckets in the paint. Nikola Pekovic is not only my favorite Wolf, but my favorite player in the NBA. With that being said, I can't help but to think what a Love--Jefferson frontcourt would look like had Kahn not traded Big Al (for Kosta Kofous and two second-rounders).
Gary Neal scored 11 of his 19 points in the second quarter. That second quarter was where the Bobcats really took control of the game. They built a sizable lead and never let the Wolves get too close again. That was thanks in large part to Neal and the rest of the Bobcat bench; Douglas-Roberts added 5 points, Ridnour had 4 and both Zeller & Biyombo contributed 2 in Charlotte's 32-point second quarter.
The Wolves are back to .500 on the season and at this pace they'll be lucky if they win 40 games this season. The Wolves will take on the Sacramento Kings at the Target Center on Sunday night, tipoff will again be at 6pmCST.
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!