Two ships passing in the night. Two teams headed in opposite directions. Though, you wouldn’t have guessed it from a glimpse of the NBA standings a couple months ago.
When Washington played at Minnesota Wednesday, it was a clash of one of the NBA’s most improved teams taking on one of its most floundering. The hair’s difference in their records overall didn’t tell the story of what’s gone on either team.
Let’s use Jan. 3 as the pivot point. That’s the night Minnesota’s Kevin Love reinjured his right hand, sending him into surgery and rehab that’s kept him off the court ever since. The Wolves were 15-14 then, beating Denver and feeling reasonably good about their chances of ending an eight-year playoff drought.
Without Love, though, the Wolves have gone 5-23. Teammates injured before and after have been missed, too, and second-year forward Derrick Williams has shown flashes of his potential in Love’s absence. But there’s no denying the W-L numbers.
Since that date, Minnesota has been playing at a .179 clip, a drop of .339 percentage points from its previous .517. No team in the league has nosedived worse in that time.
Playoffs? Yeah … right.
The Wolves are facing their seven consecutive season of winning fewer than 40 percent of their games. In fact, heading into the Wizards game at Target Center, Minnesota would have needed to go 13-12 over its final 25 to avoid that mark – that is, it would have to play above .500 just to reach .400. Not likely.
This 2012-13 season hasn’t just been difficult, it’s been cruel. The Wolves had lost 242 “man games” to injuries through their first 57, with only guard Luke Ridnour appearing in every game. Meanwhile, Chase Budinger (51), Brandon Roy (51), Kevin Love (39), Malcolm Lee (38), Ricky Rubio (24) and Andrei Kirilenko (12) all were in double digits in absences, with Nikola Pekovic (9) right behind. Heck, even coach Rick Adelman missed a number on the sideline while tending to his wife’s illness.
The other ugly number for the Wolves this season has been their 3-point shooting, headed toward historically bad. At 29.7 percent (303-for-1,021), Minnesota is on pace to join Charlotte (29.5 percent last season) as the only teams in the past 10 years to shoot worse than 30 percent from the arc. Losing Love – the 3-point champ at last season’s All-Star weekend – and Budinger have depleted the team’s long-range ranks. Meanwhile, the Wolves’ opponents have been hitting nearly 49 percent from the arc since that dreaded Jan. 3 date.
Washington, by contrast, weathered the worst of its season while John Wall was out with a left knee (patella stress) injury. The Wizards’ turnaround doesn’t exactly coincide with Jan. 3; their point guard played his first game on Jan. 12 and they’ve gone 14-11 since his return.
Still, Washington leads all teams in percentage improvement since Jan. 3, rising from 4-26 (.133) to 15-13 (.536) since. Cleveland and New Orleans, respectively the Nos. 2 and 3 clubs in percentage increases, not coincidentally have gotten healthier too thanks to Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon.
Here are the team’s with the biggest rises and falls since Jan. 3:
.403: Washington (from 4-26, .133, to 15-13, .536)
.269: Cleveland (7-26, .212, to 13-14, .483)
.264: New Orleans (7-25, .219, to 14-15, .483)
.108: Utah (16-17, .485, to 16-11, .593)
.106: Dallas (13-20, .394 to 13-13, .500)
-.339: Minnesota (15-14, .517, to 5-23, .179)
-.274: Golden State (22-10, .688, to 12-17, .414)
-.218: Atlanta (20-10, .667, to .13-16, .448)
-.203: Orlando (12-20, .375, to 5-24, .172)
-.137: L.A. Clippers (25-8, .758, to 18-11, .621)