A Week of Wolves: Houston
The four game week begins with a loss. Color me shocked.
by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
Of the four games in their homestand this week, tonight’s matchup with Houston was the most winnable. The Rockets are a better team than the Timberwolves for sure, but with the murderer’s row of teams coming up–Dallas, Denver and San Antonio–you would think they would come out with all their might to try to get this one.
Prior to the game, Kurt Rambis answered the normal array of questions from the beat writers, but what jumped out at me was when he discussed Kevin Love. Without Al Jefferson tonight, as he served the final game of his suspension, Love would have the opportunity to lead his team. My question during the scrum was if he ever saw a sliver of depression from Love when adjusting to coming off the bench and Rambis explained that Love did initially think of the move as a demotion, as any player does. However, Love also looked at the opportunity as a challenge, has succeeded and has shown his value to the team to be higher now than at the beginning of the season.
I understand that Rambis likes Ryan Hollins energy to start the games and Love’s dependability off the bench, but without Jefferson, it seems to be obvious that Love should get the starting nod, right? Nah, it’s better to keep Ryan Hollins in the starting five and give the nod to Darko Milicic. I think the move to bring Darko to Minnesota was fine. I mean, what do they have to lose? He’s more than likely gone when this season is over anyway, so sure, let’s see if he can do anything–I mean, anything–between now and the end of the season. However, let’s put him in a better position to “succeed” and put him on the court with Love. The starting posts should have been Love and Milicic.
Houston’s locker room was a ghost town pregame, as a vast majority of the players were out on the court, getting shots up and stayed out there until the media availability time wrapped up. However, I was able to catch up with Kevin Martin briefly as he laced up his shoes to join his teammates. Although brief, Martin was able to discuss his time in Houston thus far and is very happy with the move.
“It’s getting better by the day. I love being here,” said Martin. “We’re looking forward to getting some of our guys back and making a little run at the playoffs. Everything is what I expected and I’m just ready to roll. I think the hardest adjustment is just that it happened in midseason and off the court, you have to do a lot of stuff as far as finding a place and stuff like that. My role is to just play how I’ve been playing the past five years. Score, number one. Then do the little things to help this team win. We just have to keep winning and getting better by the day. You know, it’s a new team, so we have to rally around each other and pull it together.”
Making my way into Minnesota’s locker room, I found Darko sitting alone at his locker. He just came back in from shooting and was watching film of Houston. He looked winded just from pregame warm-ups, but was in better spirits than when he arrived in Minneapolis. Even after being slammed with the same questions since his arrival, Darko was more than willing to chat.
“It’s a good experience,” said Milicic on his brief time in Minnesota so far. “I’m still trying to get back in shape. It’s better than it was because I was in really bad shape when I got here. It’s much better now because I’m working after practice, before practice and trying to get back into shape as soon as possible. It’s been good. Good people, good staff and it’s been a good experience.”
“I’m just trying to finish the season on a positive note, just trying to get back into shape as soon as possible and see how I’m going to work with these guys,” said Milicic. “Is it going to be good for us and me? I didn’t expect to play all season long, so now that I have the chance to play I’m going to try to make the best of it for me and for the team. If I feel good, I’m going to go out. If I don’t feel good, I don’t want the team to suffer because of me. I didn’t expect to play all season long. I expected to finish the season and start fresh next year, but this is an opportunity for me to do good. I don’t have any goals. I just want to play basketball.”
As Minnesota huddled to run out onto the court pregame, Darko spoke up and wanted to address the team. He said, “You are my friends.” His teammates gave him slaps on the back and joked around that they actually heard his voice, but it was a nice moment for the embattled player. A moment of acceptance, which is something he is not used to during his time in the NBA.
The game itself was uneventful for the Timberwolves, as they came out with no energy in the first quarter. Wait, isn’t that the exact reason Hollins is in the starting lineup? Scola exploited the lack of defense inside from the home team and Houston took an 11-point lead into the second quarter. It didn’t get much better throughout the game, as the Wolves continued to find ways to stay within striking distance only to make two or three dumb mistakes to allow Houston to pull away again.
Scola, Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin were unstoppable tonight. As mentioned, Scola had a career night, Brooks completely outplayed Jonny Flynn and Kevin Martin did what he does best…score the ball. The three players combined for 80 points and did so with ease, as is the case for many opponents against Minnesota. Just brutal.
The first game of the four game homestand did not go well for the Wolves. They definitely missed Al Jefferson tonight after competing well in their first game without him. As Kurt Rambis continues to evaluate players, it will be interesting to see which lineups he uses and which players will get court time. After all, Alando Tucker saw time tonight against Martin and did not perform. Sasha Pavlovic should have been written off months ago, as Rambis seems to have done with Pecherov.
I’ll make it simple. Here are the players who should get time…
Jonny Flynn, Ramon Sessions, Corey Brewer, Wayne Ellington, Ryan Gomes, Damien Wilkins, Kevin Love, Al Jefferson and Darko Milicic. They are, after all, the only players who have a legitimate shot to return next year. Any other players should only see the court if these players are in foul trouble.
As I said in the last post, it’s going to be a long week.