The Minnesota Timberwolves bench has been an inconsistent mess this season and tonight's loss in Portland was yet another prime example of their unpredictable play.
The Wolves second unit combined to score just 15 points on 23.8% shooting (5-21) from the field. Beyond the three players (Mbah a Moute, Price & Dieng) that played the final minute and a half of an already decided game, all of Minnesota's bench finished with a negative +/-. Turiaf was a team-worst -19; Cunningham, Barea & Budinger all finished -17; and Shved was -12.
On the other hand, the Portland bench was a key for a Trailblazer win. Portland's bench combined to score 34 points on 55.6% shooting (15-27). There wasn't a single Portland player who came off the bench that finished with a negative +/-.
When the Wolves had to turn to their second unit, that's when the game began to slip away. With primarily bench players on the court for both teams, the Trailblazers went on a pair of 16-4 runs to start the second quarter and again midway through the fourth quarter (those stats thanks to the Tribune's Jerry Zgoda via Twitter).
It wasn't just "Bad J.J." tonight...it was also "Rough Ronny", "Dire Dante", "Sickening Shved" and "C'mon Chase". I can understand in Chase's 'rustiness' considering he's coming off knee surgery and we saw that same 'rust' when he returned late last season. However, with every missed jumper you hope and pray that he's one step closer to returning to form, because the Minnesota is in dire need of another knock down shooter and an offensive focal point off of the bench.
That run midway through the fourth quarter doomed the Wolves in this one. The lineup on the court during that time was Barea, Martin, Budinger, Cunningham & Turiaf. With Budinger & Barea unable to hit anything, the Wolves had to continue to go to the red-hot Martin and the Portland defense knew it. Adelman got his starters back into the game near the 7:30 minutes to play mark. By that time the Blazer bench had pushed the lead to 17. Over the following four minutes the Wolves were able to cut the lead to 10, but they couldn't get any closer as the Trailblazers were able to close out the game for the W.
The play of Rubio, Martin & Peković were certainly bright spots in a rough night for the Wolves. Rubio attacked the lane and consistently found his teammates for easy looks (particularly Pek). Rubio finished with his 8th double-double of the season and this is his third-straight double-digit assist game. Martin finished just two points shy of a season-high in points. He hit a number of big shots that kept this game close throughout. These past couple outings, he's certainly looked like he returned to that early season form he displayed back in November. Nikola finished with his 22nd double-double of the season with 23 & 11.
When I think of the Portland Trailblazers, I think of the two-headed monster of Aldridge & Lillard. Tonight, they both finished with double-digit scoring nights, but they certainly struggled to score the ball efficiently. Instead, it was the play from Matthews & Lopez as well as the duo off the bench: Robinson & Williams that were keys to the Portland victory.
With this being a nationally televised game (the second of three-straight for Minnesota), we got a special treat: getting to listen to the local Portland Trailblazer broadcast team. I usually have pretty strong feelings about opposing broadcast teams, but I do my best to keep those (usually negative) opinions to myself. The only other time I've complained about an opposing broadcast team this season was the game vs. the Boston Celtics about a month ago. I couldn't believe some of the things that were said during that game, but tonight's idiocy from Mike Rice & Mike Barrett. Some of the many idiotic things that were said tonight: "Rubio is a poor defender". Ricky struggles to get through screens sometimes, but he is certainly one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA. He matched up against phenom Damian Lillard tonight and the reigning rookie of the year finished with 14 points on a putrid 29.4% shooting (5-17). "Other more famous freshman" & "I didn't think Shved would play tonight". When talking about the upcoming draft class, the broadcast team couldn't think of one of these 'famous freshman' and they didn't think Shved would play tonight because of that broken nose...despite him playing last night vs. the Warriors in San Francisco. It just shows a lack of preparation--do these guys do any research prior to calling a game?! Just before the final horn they began to talk about Portland's record and one of the broadcasters said and now they'll move to 33-9 or 10 on the season, with the other correcting him: um....33-11. Being part of a broadcast team is one of the greatest jobs and when you have to listen to shoddy and ill-prepared color commentary, it's just a shame because there are so many that could do it so much better. It undoubtedly makes you appreciate Minnesota's broadcast team of Dave Benz & Jim Petersen.
Tonight's box score...
The Wolves got outworked on the glass and that's not something that usually happens. You certainly have to 'tip your cap' to the hustle of Aldridge, Lopez, Freeland & Robinson. Love & Pek are two of the NBA's best rebounders and they combined for 24 of Minnesota's 40. However, the Wolves got just 7 rebounds from their reserves while Freeland & Robinson pounded the glass for Portland's second unit. Turiaf & Cunningham need to do better in that respect.
LaMarcus Aldridge had just 8 points at halftime on 4-of-10 shooting. In the second half he scored another 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting. He finished with 21 points, but did so by shooting 42.8% from the field. Some of that can be attributed to the defense played by Kevin Love. Love isn't known as a great interior defender, but he was very aggressive tonight and made LA work for everything he got. You could tell Love was 'turned up' for tonight's game on the defensive end and didn't want LA to get the best of him. It's probably the best defense I've seen Love play since that game against Memphis & Zach Randolph back in mid-December.
The Wolves haven't been over .500 since they were 8-7 following a loss to the Houston Rockets on November 23. The Wolves lost their next two games (@Indiana and vs. Denver) to fall to 8-9 on the year. The Wolves have had 10 chances since then to get back over .500 and they are 0-10 in those games (with one of those losses coming tonight). With a win over the Bulls on Monday, they'll get another shot at that on Wednesday night vs. the Pelicans.
Lastly, I'd like to touch briefly on the Love vs. Aldridge debate. Being a Timberwolves fan, you already know who I think is the NBA's best power forward. Kevin Love is a better rebounder, shooter and playmaker hands down! Aldridge holds an advantage in athleticism and post defense and his Portland teams are usually more successful. Love's offensive game and rebounding are just far too impressive and his consistency to put up such gaudy numbers makes him the better player (in my mind). Love did struggle tonight finishing with just 15 points & 13 rebounds for his NBA-leading 37th double-double, but I'd take Love over LA 10 times out of 10.
Aldridge said before the season began that he wasn't sure he wanted to stay in Portland, because he wasn't convinced he could win with the Blazers. With the Blazers at 33-11 on the year, his attitude has definitely changed. He's gone from "not sure I can win here" to "sign me up for another half decade of Blazer basketball". It just goes to show that winning does solve a lot of problems. I know I can speak for the majority of Wolves fans who are hoping that the Wolves can begin winning to convince Love to stick around the Twin Cities for a bit longer.
That's all for now, the Wolves are back in action on Monday vs. the Bulls in Chicago. That game will tip at 7pmCST.
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!