Timberwolves Still Finding It Tough To Close The Close Ones


VIDEO: Kevin Love talks to the media after the Timberwolves’ loss to the Suns

Burdened by a failure rate in close games that soon might wrap itself constrictor-style around the team’s entire season — 0-10 in games decided by four points or less, 1-18 going back a full calendar year — the Minnesota Timberwolves might want to try something daring the next time they have a comfortable late lead:

If they find themselves up six or seven points and the game clock under, say, five seconds, they use a timeout to lay a red carpet around the 3-point line. Invite the other guys to hoist one final bomb, uncontested from long range, in the hope that they’ll hit it. Ideally, there won’t be enough time for the opposition to turn that last gasp into a serious comeback and the Wolves will let some air out of what’s becoming a burdensome dark cloud over their season.

It’s bad enough that Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and the rest of coach Rick Adelman‘s squad have been spinning their wheels like a Camaro in a Minnesota snownami – they’re 0-8 in their attempts to push over .500 since slipping below on Nov. 27. Now these repeated failures at winning the sort of tight games wannabe playoff teams need come April is threatening to fray more than just some postseason ambitions.

After Kevin Martin‘s veering layup dropped off the front rim Wednesday night at Target Center in the 104-103 loss to Phoenix, a cranky Love called out some teammates for their demeanor:

“We can’t have two guys sitting at the end of the bench that play good minutes just sitting there and not getting up during timeouts,” Love said, referring to the poor body language exhibited by veterans J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham in the fourth quarter. “We all need to be in this together. That kind of [ticks] me off. We’re supposed to be a team.”

The Timberwolves (17-18) are anything but a team right now. They are a collection of individual agendas tripping each other up as the franchise pursues its first playoff bid since 2004.

And:

“It’s two guys that we expect more from them,” Love said. “I think they expect more from themselves. I’m not trying to single anybody out and I don’t want to make it bigger than it is, but it’s just a team that we needed to beat tonight and we needed everybody in there, even guys that didn’t play any minutes. We need to have a team and a bench that’s really in it together.”

The tension is mounting. After the two-point home loss to Dallas on Dec. 30 – the game in which Shawn Marion‘s foul on Love’s game-tying shot wasn’t whistled until the following morning – the All-Star power forward criticized the bench for its five-point, 2-of-12, nine-turnover performance in 58 combined minutes. Five days later, it was Love bricking four free throws at the end of their 115-111 loss to the Thunder (with the bench again chipping in five points).

On Wednesday, the Wolves’ second unit won its matchup 29-27 but Love had a poor game (15 points, 4-of-20, 12 rebounds but just one assist). Minnesota got outscored 7-0 over the final 1:51 to yank that one out of its 17-8 “split” in games decided by five points or more.

So what is behind all the late-game gaggery? It’s dicey to allege that the Wolves are choking because “choke,” like its flip side “clutch,” are oft-challenged concepts these days in the sports world.

Another reason to tread lightly on what might be a mostly random occurrence is the belief that, if this were diagnosable, it would be correctable. An operation (like Minnesota or any NBA squad) deep in basketball wisdom and financial resources would find a fix before racking up this 0-10 mark.

What’s left, then, are largely theories, several of which the Wolves probably will poke and prod in search of answers. Such as:

  • Inexperience in such circumstances. Uh, 1-18 over a 12-month period seems like ample opportunity to learn something.
  • No proven go-to guy. Seriously? With Love and Martin on the floor?
  • Predictable play-calling in such situations. This is Adelman we’re talking about, folks, a Hall of Fame-bound coach with 1,019 victories and fat stack of kudos for his offensive wiles.
  • Nervous ballhandling. Minnesota did have four of its 12 turnovers vs. Phoenix in the fourth quarter, two in the final 46 seconds. Rubio threw the ball recklessly while in the air headed out of bounds with 24.9 seconds left. But as the Wolves’ primary ball handler, Rubio is not worse late in games (15.6 of his turnovers and 16.9 percent of his minutes come after the third quarter) or in close ones (51 percent of his turnovers, 50.1 percent of his minutes with margins of five points or less).
  • Lack of referee respect. Well, yeah, that one night. And the Wolves don’t have a glamour rep or, depending on what you think of Love, a marquee name like James, Durant or Anthony. But Martin merely dealt with the usual end-of-game traffic in the lane Wednesday.
  • Leadership. That’s it, the Wolves just need another traffic cop pointing and growling directions when everyone else’s heart is in his throat. Come to think of it, Love might need to seize that role more.

More likely, at this stage, they need something cool, the way Joe Montana lifted pressure off hjis 49ers teammates late in Super Bowl XXIII when they trailed Cincinnati 16-13 with 3:20 left in the game.

Longtime Minnesota sports fans might recall what the MLB Twins went through in the mid-1980s, when alleged closer Ron Davis got into an ugly run of pouring gasoline on ninth-inning leads. A collective mental block seemed to develop, certainly a bad case of group pessimism, and after blowing a 10-run lead to Cleveland in late September 1984 to crater out of a division race, third baseman Gary Gaetti famously said: “It’s hard to throw with both hands around your neck.”

That ball club was a frazzled mess by the end, unable to exhale. This Wolves team is headed that way, with six of its next nine on the road and 29 rivals convinced that, when facing Minnesota, merely staying close is the surest path to victory.


VIDEO: The Suns rally to overtake the Timberwolves in Minnesota

22 Comments

  1. Frozen N MN says:

    Why are lakers fans so optimistic about love playing for them? What could they possibly offer to the wolves that is worth them even taking a consideration? Once Kobe is gone, lakers won’t have anything. They have no young promising players. If there was a year to tank, it would’ve been this year. Gasol is not the same player anymore. Outside of gasol and kobe, who do the lakers have that the wolves would want or anyone would want in fact? No one. Keep dreaming laker fans. And sure he will come there once his contract is up. Yes he will leave this wolves team that is at least on the rise, to a rebuilding lakers team. Makes sense to me. If anything, he’ll go to a contender if he decides to leave.

  2. Drum says:

    What?!
    why do you keep on deleting my posts nba.com?
    there are other posts worst than mine in here and they don’t get taken down, what is this? the strawberry shortcake blog?!

  3. surfinglines says:

    Love needs to quit whining (or perhaps beginning the vile media campaign that so many NBA players who want to engineer moves away seem to utilise these days) and start producing. Yes, his numbers look great on the surface – everywhere EXCEPT the 4th! I haven’t seen him stepping up to hit a game winner in any of these tight 0-10 match-ups. I have seen him brick three free throws at the end of a game we should have won. I have watched as he virtually disappears in the last quarter in some match-ups. And I have seen him throw his body into people in a an attempt to draw fouls late on, instead of having confidence to make the shot. Surely a “franchise player” would have managed to carry his team in at least a couple of these situations?

  4. Legendary526 says:

    With his tone, I do believe he’s coming to L.A. next year. If Minnesota decides to trade him then it’ll be earlier. He’ll have no such problem with the Lakers.

  5. NBA Realist says:

    Love will not go to the Lakers, they are terrible. There is absolutely no appeal in the Lakers in my opinion. Bill Simmons is dreaming that he goes there. And Clippers will not trade for him. Just because he has a house in LA and his girlfriend is there does not mean he will go there. Honestly no one will want to go to LA after Kobe retires and they will be in rebuilding mode. This current Wolves team will come around, yes Love and Pekovic do need to play defense under the rim but scoring is not a problem. When this team has a lead in the 4th quarter they need to put the strong defensive guys in instead of keeping in Love. Once they get over the hump and get over .500 things will get easier.

  6. Nobody on that team can beat anyone one on one and draw a double at games end..not even Love. He plays like Karl malone but cant turn, face and rise with a 15 footer that can only be defended by risking a foul..he end us with a jump hook or a step back. Rubio is even worse, he does not even look at rim so nobody after high school jv would even guard him. Pekovic is a nice 3rd option..it is too difficult to get him ball to be a go to guy. They are not athletic enough to come up with intangible plays (tip ins, deflections, lock down defense)..of course you may say this is “racist” but no team has had 2 white players as leading scorers since Bird /Mchale in mid 80’s.. There is a reason

  7. Gillsy says:

    You get the feeling that with the players that the Wolves have that Love is thinking if we don’t put it together soon. I am out of here. Like with loosing games decided by 4 or less being, 0 -10. even if they had won half of those they would be in playoff contention. They keep saying they will get better when they get all their players back. But really how many guys do you need to get a better record than 0 – 10 in those games.

  8. Eaham says:

    lol miami should workout a deal to get rid of bosh for love lmfao. Wow i love these miami heat fans. Workout dese nutz

  9. Gabriel says:

    what is wrong with Kevin Love, I don’t know why he is talking about teammates, when he go for 4 of 20. Just with one more field goal and the team won the game. Come on he need to be more unselfish for a team to successful.

  10. pokie says:

    This team, strangely enough, probably could use J.R. Smith.

  11. My hopes are high. says:

    He’s coming to LA. Marshall, Swaggy P, Melo, Love, and Chandler. 2015..or.16..maybe 17

  12. daniel says:

    maybe Love should shut up and play some defense. they consistently score plenty of points, but love is soft on D. No way they can win with such porous defense.

  13. rad9 says:

    love will be a knick with melo in 2015 living the life and not having to worry about losing in clutch moments. City life kid, gotta do it big in the city and thats where love was ment to play his career in the nba and trust me it will happen #LOVE2015KNICKSTAPE

  14. dustydreamnz says:

    The Knicks can’t afford him, they have Stoudemire.
    I had Wolves halftime/Suns fulltime because Wolves always choke. Just missed it!

  15. Roddy says:

    We all know that Rubio is overrated, last night he committed TO lacking minutes where the game was lost

  16. alec311 says:

    He’s leaving for LA (Lakers are favorites), but he’ll most likely get traded to the Clips for Blake

    • Brendan says:

      kevin love will likely sign with lakers but blake griffin will be a lifelong clipper can you say franchise player him and chris paul will be trying to recruit players to become long time clippers for the next decade.

  17. Brooknam says:

    Come to the Knicks you melo and chandler a unstoppable force on the nba

    • Oakley34BLAM says:

      Well I do think Love is a 4 that Melo could play effectively with at the 3…but unstoppable? Chandler is amazing…love the guy…but they need some younger blood in the middle. A Chandler-lite is needed to back up the man himself, as he can’t be relied upon at this stage to stay healthy and out of foul trouble.

    • Kunjaymaster says:

      Not a good idea for him to go to NY and join Melo, he will not benefit in any way playing along him. I think Chicago would be an awesome fit for him, playing with Rose* and Noah under the Thibodeau doctrine. I’ve been saying for a couple of years now for the Miami Heat to work out a deal trading Bosh for Love. Miami needs a guy like that who loves to rebound he will average 25 rebounds a game. bosh is good, but if you think of it, anything Bosh does Love can do better.