The Atlanta Hawks are without two of their best players and a couple of role players, but they didn't get any sympathy from the Minnesota Timberwolves who had little struggle completely dismantling this reeling Hawks squad.
Tonight's win snapped a 3-game losing streak, but in one way this win is slightly bittersweet. The Wolves just infantilized the Hawks tonight as a lot of their opponents as of late have been doing. The Hawks came into tonight's contest losers of 17 of their last 23 outings. Despite that rough stretch, they're still the Eastern Conference's 8th seed. Eight games under .500 at 31-39 and the Hawks are still most likely playoff-bound?! Even more baffling? The Western Conference has three teams (Phoenix, Minnesota & Denver) all with better records than the Hawks. All three of those teams currently sit out of the playoff picture. Forget trying to fix tanking, sleeved jerseys or expansion--new NBA commissioner Adam Silver has to do something about the way the playoffs are constructed.
Grantland had a short little article a couple days ago that showed what the current standings would look like in a Sweet 16 bracket...
No more divisions, no more conferences. The best 16 teams make the playoffs. Period. What's even more frustrating is that teams like the Bobcats & Hawks that are under .500 and on their way to the playoffs are playing more games against these terrible Eastern Conference teams--they face teams like Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Orlando & Boston three or four times a year, instead of the two meetings Western Conference teams get. Sure, they face Miami & Indiana more...but outside of those two powerhouses, the rest of the East is slightly above average, at best.
I doesn't matter much right now. The Wolves will miss the playoffs for the tenth-consecutive season and the Atlanta Hawks will get swept by either Indiana or Miami in the first round.
Tonight's win was powered by stellar performances from Corey Brewer & Kevin Martin, each of whom finished with a game-high 18 points; rookie Gorgui Dieng who notched another double-double with 15 & 15 (his 5th in 6-straight starts); and Ricky Rubio who despite shooting just 1-for-6 from the field, dished out 10 assists & 6 steals and was ultra aggressive throughout.
Kevin Love finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds & 4 assists in 29 minutes of action. It was certainly not the Love we're accustomed to, but with so many others playing well, he seemed more than happy to delegate a bit to his teammates. The results speak for themselves. I'm not saying Love should delegate to his teammates more, I'm simply saying that, that was what tonight's game called for and he had no problem playing that role. There have been/will be plenty of other nights in which they've relied on him to put the team on his back and he's responded in a lot of those situations as well.
The Hawks were playing without their starting center Al Horford who is out for the season with a shoulder injury and their sharpshooting swingman Kyle Korver who sat with back spasms. Also out for the year, role players Gustavo Ayon (shoulder) & John Jenkins (back).
Without Korver, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer turned to a starting unit that featured four forwards (DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott, Paul Millsap & Pero Antic) & point guard Jeff Teague. It created some mismatches with Brewer guarding Scott & Martin guarding Carroll, but it also created some mismatches with Scott guarding Brewer & Carroll guarding Martin. With 18 apiece for both Martin & Brewer, we know that those mismatches certainly worked in Minnesota's favor, most of the night.
Tonight was the first time the Wolves have held an opponent under 100 points since March 1st vs. Sacramento (97) and under 85 for the first time since January 29 vs. New Orleans (77). Tonight's game was also just the fifth time all season they've held a team under 85 points. It's also the first time they've held an opponent under 45% shooting since their March 7th win over the Pistons (40.4%) and under 40% for the first time since their February 12 win over the Nuggets (39.3%).
With tonight's win the Wolves move back to .500 on the year. They've hovered around that mark for the majority of the season and it remains likely that the Wolves will likely finish with 40-41 wins and a record of 40-42 or 41-41. Wouldn't it be nice to see them take their final twelve games this season? Yes, but with the inconsistency this squad has shown all year long, it's assonine to think they could suddenly pull it together for a final push--finishing the year on a 13-game winning streak (especially considering they still have to play the Clippers, Nets, Rockets, Spurs, Heat, Grizzlies, Bulls & Warriors).
The Wolves will be back in action on Friday night, when they host the Los Angeles Lakers at the Target Center. Tipoff is set for 7pmCST, enjoy the game!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!