The Wolves fell back to .500 on the season with a 113-105 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night. This means the return of one of our favorite things here at 1500ESPN, West Coast Thoughts!
Here are some key thoughts from Saturday night’s game in the Pacific Northwest.
Starting Rose with Covington out
Robert Covington was announced with a knee injury early in the day on Saturday as probable. He then was downgraded to out roughly a half hour before tip-off. This obviously meant that things would be shuffled not only in the starting lineup, but with the second unit that Covington is a member of as well.
Coach Tom Thibodeau decided to trot Derrick Rose out with the starting unit as the replacement for Covington. This ended up meaning that Rose would play a team-high 37 minutes and 25 shots from the floor. Rose is best used when he can be the go-to option offensively with that second unit. He still was that, thus the reason for his minutes and shot total finishing so high.
In hindsight, it may have been the wiser move to try and plug in Josh Okogie in Covington’s rotational position. Let the rookie start and be part of the second unit, the same way Covington is. Yes, they’re not the same exact player, but they’re similar enough to be able to keep everything else in order if he plays those minutes.
Missing Covington on the defensive end may have helped contribute to a deficiency in the rebounding area, as well. The Wolves were out rebounded by Portland 53-40, and that included the Trail Blazers grabbing 14 offensive rebounds. It became particularly more difficult for the Wolves to try and defend for longer stretches of time without Covington on the floor. The Blazers finished with an edge in second chance points, putting up 20 of them.
The second unit was good in the fourth quarter and didn’t get as much of a chance in the second quarter. Part of the reason for that was the early foul trouble that Karl-Anthony Towns found himself in. He played only three minutes in the first quarter before he picked up two early fouls. This meant that he hit the bench much earlier than usual and came back earlier in the second quarter than he typically does.
Towns’ foul trouble also meant that Gorgui Dieng and Taj Gibson spent a considerable amount of time on the floor together in the first quarter. That’s not a lineup that should ever be out there together, and it may have made sense to try and give Anthony Tolliver a few minutes in the first quarter to keep the rotation somewhat intact.
Not great guard play
The starting backcourt for the Wolves combined for 30 points on 13-of-34 from the floor. Neither Rose nor Teague played well in the loss. Rose had spurts where he looked good, but mostly had his worst game in sometime for the Wolves. Teague struggled out there as well, finishing a game-worst minus-19 for the night. Yes, plus/minus doesn’t always determine the value of how good a player was that evening, but minus-19 felt pretty accurate for Teague’s play.
One of the pleasant surprises this season was the way that Rose has been able to shoot the ball from behind the 3-point line. He’s been one of the better shooters in the league percentage-wise, even if he hasn’t been a high-volume shooter from out there. It’s now been more than a week since the last time he made a 3-pointer, coming in the loss to Boston last Saturday night.
In that stretch of three games Rose has only taken four 3-pointers, missing all of them.
This could mean nothing, or it could mean that Rose is starting to regress closer to his career norm from deep. It’s worth noting that teams have been paying more attention to him behind the arc because of how well he’s shot the ball from out there this season but knocking down one or two of those shots a night really opens up other areas of his game.
Josh Okogie doing things
Okogie got an opportunity to be on the floor with the absence of Covington and he was good once again.
It’s hard for Thibodeau to continue to keep the rookie on the bench, even if he is stubborn about his nine-man rotation. Okogie finished with eight points on 3-of-5 shooting and had one highlight play where he tossed the ball to himself off the backboard when he was stuck without a better option.
As it’s been said before here, the best way to describe Okogie right now may just be that he “does things.” Not all of the things are good, though many of them are, but when he’s on the floor he’s going to be noticed.
The Wolves found themselves with a lead late in a game that they really had to scratch and claw their way into, but Portland’s Damian Lillard was just too much for them to handle down the stretch. He buried a 3-pointer to give Portland the lead with just under a minute left. On the next possession Lillard found teammate CJ McCollum for an open 3-pointer to extend the lead, and then Lillard knocked down free throws down the stretch to ice the game. The First-Team All-NBA guard was just too much for the Covington-less Wolves on Saturday.