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Road Trip Thoughts: Wolves continuing road woes, math struggles, and backcourt injuries



Yet again, the Minnesota Timberwolves played a road game against a Western Conference opponent. That’s now happened 11 times on the year, and the Wolves have come away from each and every one with a loss.

After the loss on Saturday and Atlanta’s win in New York against the Knicks, the Wolves officially have the worst record on the road in the entire NBA. They’re 2-13 away from Target Center so far this year, and it’s difficult to pick out when a realistic slot for a Western Conference road win could come if they continue to play like this.

There’s a very realistic chance that the Wolves don’t win on the road against a conference opponent until mid-to-late January. The next three road games against the West are at Oklahoma City, at New Orleans, and then at Oklahoma City again. They go to Phoenix on Jan. 22, and there’s a solid chance they’re 0-14 on the road against the West then.

In the meantime, this stretch may be do-or-die for the Wolves and it’s off to as poor of a start as imaginable. While it’s still December, some of these games are becoming must-win for the Wolves. They’re falling further and further out of the playoff race on a nightly basis. Minnesota has lost six of its last seven and faces teams with better records in nine of the next 11 games.

Things are slipping away from the Wolves quickly. They’re trending closer and closer to the NBA Draft Lottery than they are the NBA Playoffs. If this continues, it may be wise for them to take a realistic look at what the goals for the remainder of this season should be.

Math battle

It’s been written and talked about extensively at 1500ESPN.com, but the Wolves have a math problem, and it’s really difficult to beat math. The Spurs, seemingly like every other team that has the pleasure of facing the Wolves lately, bombed away from behind the 3-point line.

San Antonio finished the night with 19 made threes on 33 attempts. The 57.6 percent from deep isn’t something that’s easily repeated by opponents, but the high volume of makes sure seems to be.

In the Wolves’ last six games, four times teams have made 19 or more 3-pointers. Since the previous road trip began on Dec. 8 in Portland, the Wolves have been outscored 330-165 from behind the 3-point line. They’re getting outscored by 23.5 points per game from deep. It’s incredibly difficult to overcome things like that and win. In the seven games beginning on Dec. 8, the Wolves are 1-6.

The defense of the 3-point line needs to improve, and quickly.

Rose’s injury

Derrick Rose had a lackluster first half against the Spurs on Friday night with four points on 1-of-8 shooting in 16 minutes. He didn’t play in the second half due to a sore left ankle. Rose has been great for this team, and a big reason as to why they’re as close to the playoffs as they are. His injury makes a point guard situation that was already thin without Jeff Teague available for the next week or so, even more reliant on Tyus Jones.

Jerryd Bayless made his team debut against the Spurs due to Rose’s exit. For the time being, he looks to be the last remaining option as the backup point guard as long as Rose and Teague remain out with ankle injuries.

Development

If the Wolves continue this free-fall and start to fall out of playoff contention, the focus of the organization needs to become development. There’s a young core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Robert Covington already in place. Josh Okogie and Dario Šarić both look as if they can be high-end contributors for a winning franchise, and the Wolves need to ensure that they get everything possible out of those two players now and in the future.

The development of Šarić and Okogie should be one of the top priorities for the Wolves, even if winning basketball games isn’t.

It’s hard to imagine this regime in Minnesota not doing everything to win on a nightly basis, but it’s fair to think that if this is a lost year then it makes sense for the team to not win games. The Wolves are capped out for the foreseeable future with the monster extensions that both Towns and Wiggins as well as the money allotted to Gorgui Dieng, Jeff Teague, and Covington. That means that the best way for the Wolves to add another impact player is through the NBA Draft.

If the Wolves happen to finish in the lottery and get lucky with a top-3 pick in June’s NBA Draft it may be the best thing for the franchise in the long run.





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