Thursday Practice Report
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Examining most of the successful teams around the league, defense is the No. 1 priority and a constant mantra among the NBA's elite. Each Division leader holds its opponent to under 100 points with the Celtics ranking No. 1 at 91.3 points per game, slightly ahead of Miami. Watching both those squads suffocate teams on a nightly basis is a joy for most basketball fans and remains an impressive feat, considering the amount of heart, focus, and attention to detail it takes throughout a rigorous 82-game NBA schedule.
On Thursday afternoon at the Life Time Fitness Training Center, the opportunity was available to chat with head coach Kurt Rambis about some of the defensive growing pains for the Wolves this year. Minnesota fans might feel a sense of confusion when glancing at the final box score from Wednesday night's loss to Denver. Offensively, the team was brilliant and received a combined 79 points from Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, and Luke Ridnour; not to mention 17 Martell Webster points off the bench. Unfortunately the significant offensive production was not enough to hand Minnesota its third straight victory.
Rambis candidly explained some of the defensive lapses, "It takes all five guys in order to get the stops that we need and that's the connective tissue that we're talking about is everybody has to be on the same page, reading the situation correctly so that they're doing the right thing for that particular situation."
The Wolves allowed Denver to score 119 points and the head man pointed out the missed pick-and-roll assignments along with a lack of weak side help as major reasons for the defeat. One would assume the individual defenders on this Minnesota roster offer the physical tools to create a shutdown type of defensive unit. However, Rambis discussed the need for his players to execute the team defensive concept as opposed to a singular aim at stopping his player's man.
"If they're out worrying about their guy scoring that leaves a big gap in our defense, it leaves a big gap in any defense, and now guys are able to shoot into those gaps and find ways to score," Rambis stated.
In its simplest form, basketball games are won at the defensive end and limiting turnovers. The significant time in the film room at Thursday's practice session forced the players to evaluate prior performances.
Again, Rambis clarified the specific defensive adjustments needed in order to turn close losses into victories.
"It's more reacting to things quickly enough. When the ball changes sides of the floor the ball is swung from one side to the other. We don't make this real tight connective shift to the ball side. The ball gets swung, some guys move, other guys lag behind, then there's penetration, so, they're not in the position that they're supposed to be in and that opens up a gap. Now they're having to react to a situation and that's one of the things that we talked about in our film session is that we're doing too much reacting instead of anticipating what we're supposed to be doing and anticipating what's coming up next, so, that we're already in the right spot instead of coming into the right spot."
The numbers don't lie. Minnesota owns a 6-1 record when holding its opponents below the century mark.
In other news, Darko Milicic was held out of practice today with a left hip contusion and is listed as day-to-day at this point. Anthony Tolliver appears to be nearing a return but the team has not determined a firm date for his first game back on the floor.
The Wolves practice on Friday afternoon before hosting New Jersey on New Year's day at 7 PM.
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