My goodness, what a second half it’s been. Since March 9th, you might call it, a tale of two seasons.
For as much excitement that was created in the season’s first two months, the past few weeks have been downright unbearable for the Wolves fan who was convinced the team had turned the corner. I’m here to tell you that the team is OK. The path is right. The leadership is in place. The players, those “moving parts” to a basketball team, are banged up, beaten, bruised and battered. But they too, will be OK.
These days and nights, it ain’t easy being a true Wolves fan. Watching the Wolves (if you could find it on TV) give up 60-plus first half points in Denver then losing while watching Kevin Love go down with a concussion, that was hard. Seeing Team Turnaround lose seven straight games (after positioning themselves for a playoff run) has been tough too. The roster is makeshift with a “who’s available tonight” tag being given to Coach Adelman before every game. The Wolves have used 13 different starting line ups this season and as we write, a handful of players are injured or just out for the season.
Even though the Wolves are not the only team to deal with a rash of injuries this late in the season, it has raised eyebrows for many because the players who are left to get the job done, to finish the season as well as they can, are struggling. Coach Adelman is clear…he blames the losing streak on three things. Defense, leadership and execution.
One thing that is clear about Adelman is this. He has expectations. Long time assistant Jack Sikma told me a few weeks ago during our GameON! TV taping that Adelman expects his players to do their part, in practice…in games…and off the court. That’s what being a well compensated NBA player is about in his mind. Adelman played the game and played well. He’s become the eighth winningest coach in NBA history. He’s got credibility. He knows what’s up. He has expectations. From players, assistant coaches and Timberwolves staff.
That said, his return on those expectations is a bit on the low side it seems. Adelman has made it clear to those who will listen that losing by 21 to Boston or 8 at Sacramento or even 24 at home against Phoenix is more than just injuries. It’s players showing up to work and not doing what’s expected. It’s lazy on defense. It’s not stepping up and leading by example. Adelman said, “We can get beat but we can’t play as we did against Phoenix.” It’s not doing what they the Wolves players do day in and day out. Execute plays and make plays.
Angie from Fridley showed up to a GameON! taping last week and was frustrated. “I thought the Wolves could get into the playoffs despite losing (Ricky) Rubio. I guess I was wrong…is he THAT important to the team?” Angie, thanks…and in some ways, yes. If numbers don’t lie, the Wolves played better with #9 in the lineup. At .500 then, charging for the playoffs but also making things happen on and off the court. But do remember, since then, other key Wolves have been in and out of the line-up. Luke Ridnour, Nicola Pekovic, JJ Barea, Wayne Ellington, Michael Beasley, Darko and Brad Miller have all joined Rubio on the wounded end of the bench. While Rubio is a vital cog there’s more to the slide than just losing him.
“The season’s not over and we have to understand that” is the message Adelman has been preaching non-stop to his team for the past few weeks as they fight through this late season skid. Surely there is disappointment but the expectation is that they will fight through it and find a way to win, even with a line-up that will miss Kevin Love. With a handful of games left, there will be a great deal to build on next season for the Wolves. Fans have found their place and like the direction the team is headed. The Wolves have enjoyed 10-sellouts this season and that’s the most in nearly 10-years (2003-04 to be exact when there were 14-sellouts). K-Love is a superstar in the making from scoring to rebounding, leading to his off-court/community face. Love is the foundation. Rubio is the true point guard this team has needed. When his season was ended, he was among the NBA’s best in steals, assists and was scoring nearly 11-a night. Other contributors, JJ Barea, when healthy, has provided a terrific spark as a starter and role player off the bench. Martell Webster returned from back injury to make 18-straight starts, Big Pek is a load in the middle and scoring nearly 14 a night. Pekovic makes a difference in the middle. And in just his second season, Wayne Ellington has role played nicely for Coach Adelman.
Back in March, the thought was certainly more than 25-wins in the first full week of April. But as the season finds its path to a close, you know what’s being discussed in the Wolves locker room. It’s about playing with pride, doing your job, it’s about closing out games, it’s about doing what is done in practice during the games and it’s about making it happen. What the Wolves have done in this current losing streak is not acceptable to the staff or the players themselves and despite some of the nay-sayers, I see them finding a way to end this amazing season on a high note. It has been amazing. It’s given us what we wanted. A better team. A team that’s found ways to win (remember too…the Wolves have the second most one-possession wins in the NBA this year with 7) after two seasons of massive losses. And it’s a Wolves team that has given team staff and fans reasons to have expectations. That’s a good thing. A little hope and expectations goes a long way.
See you on TV:
You don’t want to miss GameON! powered by SEVEN Steakhouse/Sushi/Ultralounge/Skybar this Sunday morning on FOX’s My29 at 10:30AM.
We’ll be 1 on 1 with local favorite and former Twins gold glover Torii Hunter and Swarm Lacrosse standout Evan Kirk. All GameON! shows are broadcast in High Definition and we’ve featured Wolves like JJ Barea, Wayne Ellington, Jack Sikma and Anthony Tolliver and those can be found on ITunes & online at www.gameontvmn.com.
GameON! powered by SEVEN allows you the opportunity to get up close and personal, to meet your favorite players and fellow fans at our weekly tapings next door to Target Center at SEVEN (7th and Hennepin). GameON! is about in-depth interviews with the top players, great food, sports newsmakers and we get you inside your favorite teams (including the Wolves). GameON! powered by SEVEN Steakhouse/Sushi/Ultralounge/Skybar. You can friend us on Facebook and drop me a note, Rod@GameOnTvMN.com. We reserve the right to use your e-mails here in SimonsSays at Timberwolves.com.
Keep your GameON! See you soon!