Wolves show promise, but 0-2 start is a buzzkill
After nearly a decade of ineptitude, this season's incarnation of the T-Wolves is generating some buzz.
But last night's disappointing loss to Milwaukee dropped the team to 0-2 and featured the shoddy defense and ball-handling characteristic of the horrible Kurt Rambis teams fans are so eager to forget about.
With Spanish heartthrob and basketball prodigy Ricky Rubio, 2011's second-overall-pick Derrick Williams and a slimmer, beefed-up Kevin Love on the roster, the Wolves sport an impressive array of young talent.
Renewed interest in the squad was palpable at Monday night's home opener, where a rare sellout crowd of over 19,000 fans demonstrated that some folks in these parts still care about professional hoops despite years of losing and mismanagement.
Unfortunately, after narrow back-to-back losses to Oklahoma City and Milwaukee, the early-season results have been more of what T-Wolves fans have grown accustomed to in the post-KG era.
Monday night's 104-100 loss to the Thunder was excusable. With a three-headed monster of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Oklahoma City at the least seems poised for a return to the Western Conference finals, where they fell last year in five games to the eventual-champion Dallas Mavericks.
The Wolves hung with OKC throughout the game and had chances to win at the end. Although the Pups lost, hanging tough against an up-and-coming power in the first real game after a lockout-truncated preseason can be considered a moral victory.
Not so with last night's loss in Milwaukee. With a middle-aged roster full of middling talent and little star power, most NBA pundits have this year's Bucks on the fringes of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.
Although the Bucks had one of the worst offenses in the league last season, the Wolves shoddy interior defense made Milwaukee look like an offensive juggernaut for most of the game. The Bucks piled up 60 points in the first half and led by as many as 20 in the third quarter.
Taking care of the rock was another major problem, as the Wolves racked up an ungodly 25 turnovers for the night.
The Wolves put together a spirited second-half rally, but Kevin Love's last-second attempt at a game-typing three pointer clanged off the rim. After beating the Bucks twice in the preseason, the Wolves couldn't come away with the victory when it counted, losing a game they needed to have in front of a tough slate of games this weekend.
With Rubio, JJ Barea, Michael Beasley, Williams and Love playing much of the second and fourth quarters, the Wolves trot out a breathtaking array of gifted offensive players. But that lineup also lacks a true center and shut-down perimeter defender, making it difficult to come up with defensive stops.
On the other hand, the starting unit of Luke Ridnour, Wes Johnson, Beasley, Love and Darko Milicic features a true center (Darko) and solid perimeter defender (Wes), but lacks a guard who can create shots for others and has a track record of getting outscored. After all, this is the same starting five Kurt Rambis trotted out for much of last year's awful 17-win campaign.
Despite their obvious flaws and winless record, there are still a lot of buzz-worthy things going on at 600 1st Ave. After a breakout season last year, Kevin Love looks like he's poised to take his game to a new level. Last night, he put up 20 rebounds and 31 points, 19 of which came from the free-throw stripe. For the game, he got to the line a ridiculous 24 times.
And the Wolves' two marquee rookies have shown promise. While he's turnover prone and lacking a mid-range game, D-Will clearly has the size, athleticism and shooting ability to be a terrific scorer at the NBA level. And Rubio, despite a lack of scoring ability, has played efficiently through the first two tilts while flashing the uncanny passing abilities that made him a YouTube sensation during his Spanish career.
But unfortunately, it seems likely that the Wolves will stand at 0-4 after this weekend. On Friday, LeBron and the dominant, undefeated Heat come to town, then on Sunday the defending champion Mavericks square off against the Pups. Another tough home game against San Antonio completes a three-games-in-four-nights stretch against a trio of the NBA's finest.
So while the future looks bright, it seems that NBA observers (including yours truly) who had the Wolves slated for their first postseason appearance since Howard Dean was dominating the news cycle may have been one year off.
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