HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — As we continuously debate and wonder whether or not the Los Angeles Lakers will make the playoffs, another team is making it a little easier for them.
On Dec. 16, the Minnesota Timberwolves stood in sixth place in the Western Conference at 12-9, even though Ricky Rubio had just played his first game of the season and Kevin Love had shot just 35 percent in his 11 games.
Since then, the Wolves are 4-10 and sinking fast. Rubio has been in and out of uniform and has played just 20 minutes per contest in the 10 games he’s played. Love, meanwhile, reinjured his right hand and is out 8-10 weeks. So, yeah, in a race with Houston, Portland, Utah and the Lakers for the two final playoff spots in the Western Conference, the Wolves are in a tough position.
The Wolves survived that first month and a half because they had a top-five defense. They ranked fifth in defensive efficiency through Dec. 15, allowing just 98.6 points per 100 possessions.
Since then, the Wolves have a bottom-five defense, allowing 108.2 points per 100 possessions.
Timberwolves efficiency, 2012-13
|Through Dec. 15||12||9||100.8||16||98.6||5||+2.3||11|
|Since Dec. 16||4||10||98.9||28||108.2||26||-9.3||29|
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
That is one heck of a turnaround, and not an easy one to explain.
What’s crazy is that the Wolves are the No. 1 defensive rebounding team in the league over the last month. They’re also keeping their opponents off the free throw line. But they’re not forcing any turnovers and they’re not forcing enough missed shots.
Timberwolves defense, 2012-13
|Through Dec. 15||47.9%||9||74.4%||7||15.6%||12||.240||3|
|Since Dec. 16||53.1%||29||77.6%||1||13.8%||26||.227||6|
OppeFG% = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OppTmTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = FTA / FGA
The Wolves’ defense has been at its worst in the paint, where they’re allowing opponents to shoot 58.4 percent since Dec. 16, the highest mark in the league.
The problems seem to start with big man Nikola Pekovic. The Wolves have allowed an atrocious 110.6 points per 100 possessions in Pekovic’s 436 minutes since Dec. 16. But they haven’t been any better (110.4) with Greg Stiemsma playing center either.
One thing to note is that the Wolves’ schedule has been pretty tough. Nine of their 14 games in the last month have been on the road and 10 have been against teams above .500. Overall, they’ve played the fourth-hardest schedule in the league this season.
But you don’t go from fifth-best to fifth-worst because of the schedule. In the last four days alone, the Wolves have allowed the sub-.500 Hornets (19th in offensive efficiency) to score 104 points and the sub-.500 Mavs (17th) to score 113 in a pair of slow-paced games.
It’s clear that the Wolves’ problems are about more than their opponents. And they’re about more than Love or Rubio, because they were doing fine without them early.
What’s also clear is that if the Wolves can’t defend, their season is over.