MINNEAPOLIS – Seventeen quick thoughts for the 17 made free throws by the Minnesota Timberwolves in Saturday night’s 125-105 loss at Target Center to the Houston Rockets.
1. Right now, the Wolves have a problem and it exists on the defense end of the floor. Saturday night was another lackluster performance on that end of the floor in Minnesota, and the offense wasn’t good enough without Andrew Wiggins (personal) to overcome that.
2. Allowing Houston’s James Harden to get his is something that’s excusable. He entered the night averaging a league-leading 38.7 points per game and only increased that by scoring 49 against the Wolves. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he was able to put up numbers like that. It’s who Harden is. In fact, the Wolves didn’t necessarily do a bad job on Harden, forcing him to need 41 attempts to reach his 49 points. With that said, this is also the Wolves are right now. A team that can’t seem to be able to even remotely contain the NBA’s elite guards.
3. The Wolves have played four All-Star scoring guards this season so far this season across five games, Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, Golden State’s D’Angelo Russell, Houston’s Harden, and Washington’s Bradley Beal twice. In those five games they’ve allowed that quartet an average of 45 points per game. That’s a problem.
4. Harden’s scoring numbers were predictable. One offshore gambling site listed his personal point total prop at 42.5 points prior to tip on Saturday night. What wasn’t predictable was the fact that the Wolves allowed his backcourt mates of Ben McLemore, Austin Rivers, and Chris Clemons to combine for 58 points as a trio.
5. If the Harden performance is excusable, even preferred on a night when Houston was without Russell Westbook (rest), Eric Gordon (knee surgery), Danuel House (sacral contusion), and Clint Capela (concussion), the performance by his teammates was the exact opposite. The Wolves could ill-afford to allow this to happen, even without Wiggins and Josh Okogie available.
6. “I mean, you can point to a number of things,” head coach Ryan Saunders said. “I’ve said before, and you guys can believe it or not believe it. I am who I am. And I’m a no-excuse person. Who’s on the court is on the court. But we have to do more things to make teams like that uncomfortable. James Harden is a heck of a player. He’s one of the best scorers you’ll ever see. And he took 41 shots. I thought we made him work for some of them. But, some of them, we didn’t.”
7. If this Wolves team is going to be competitive in the Western Conference, this cannot be the effort they put forth defensively on a regular basis. If it doesn’t improve, the Wolves will find themselves experiencing more losses than wins moving forward.
8. As far as the offense went on Saturday, the first half it was fine. They trailed Houston 64-62 at the half, posting quarters of 30 and 32 points. The second half was a disaster. They scored just 43 points total in the second half, which was a big part of the reason why Houston was able to turn a tight game into a blowout.
9. Karl-Anthony Towns posted another big line on Saturday – 27 points and 15 rebounds – but it didn’t feel dominant in any way. He only took 15 shots on the night, which is a number the Wolves probably need to be higher if they’re going to be successful.
10. “I felt in the game that I should’ve took some more thoughts maybe,” Towns said. “Then I sat there and I really thought about it and said those are the right passes, the right plays. Our system is our system. I can’t deviate around the system because I want to feel like I need more shots. That’s selfish basketball, it’s not winning basketball.”
11. Towns is right that he was playing winning basketball. He was making the right play routinely in terms of passing out of double teams to the open guy on the court. But the issue is at times who he’s passing to, which is no fault of his own. Both Towns and Jake Layman had a solid night from 3-point range, combining to go 6-of-10, but the rest of the team was just 6-of-28. Thus, the issue at hand.
12. “Winning basketball is what I did. Maybe I wanted to shoot the ball, of course I want to shoot the ball. I feel like I work tremendously hard on my craft and I know I’m one of the best scorers in this league. When Kelan’s open, Keita is open, Cov’s open, those are 3-point shots. Those are shots, obviously as you guys know, that we want to take. That’s part of the system, that’s winning basketball, that’s doing what we’re supposed to do.”
13. Towns finished the game without an assist, the first time he’s done that this season.
14. “Yeah, you know, I made the right passes, you know what I’m trying to say. Zero assists, obviously, we’ve gotta make some shots, but we didn’t make that tonight. At the end of the day I’m happy that I made the right plays. If you want people to follow you’ve gotta lead them.”
15. The Wolves have really hit adversity a number of times this season already and bounced back well. The early season suspension that Towns dealt with and the injuries that decimated the point guard position for a little bit hurt, but the team found a way to bounce back. Wiggins having to miss time because of a personal issue is something that couldn’t be controlled, but it is something the team will have to rebound strong from.
16. “You guys might call it a funk, I call it the NBA season,” Saunders said. “The NBA’s season is a long season, and a lot of things happen. And I am going to say, I have thought about this: Two days ago we were feeling great. But one of our key members has something that he needs to make sure that he takes care of before he takes care of the basketball — the family aspect of things. And we support him. We will regroup when we get him back, and we’ll be on a trajectory where we feel good about things.”
17. The Wolves will try and do just that on Monday night in Utah against the Jazz.