Wolves win big but still have lots of work to do on defense
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MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Timberwolves snapped a six-game losing streak in Saturday night's 103-87 win over the hapless Toronto Raptors.
The 87 points the Wolves gave up was nearly a season-low but this was against a Raptors team that has lost 10 consecutive games -- including six straight on the road -- and looked as interested as a guy sitting through a romantic comedy with his girlfriend.
In short, the victory is by no means a sign the Wolves have fixed the defensive issues that have plagued them all season.
With the youngest team in the league, it was obvious that things were not going to click overnight. Coach Kurt Rambis has said since training camp that the team's defense would be slowest aspect to develop but even he admits he thought it would be further along.
"I would hope it would have been better," Rambis said. "We don't have a whole lot of players that have a natural basketball defensive mindset. They don't view the sport from that perspective so we are working with a lot of our individuals to get better."
The Wolves are going through all the typical growing pains you expect from a young team playing together for the first time but there is no question the brunt of the problems are all on defense.
"We all have to get better at that end of the floor," Rambis said. "We all have to dramatically improve. The numbers are indicative of that."
As Rambis points out, the numbers do not lie:
· Last in point allowed (108.9)
· Last in fouls (23.5)
· 29th in opponent free-throw attempts per game (29.5)
· 29th in opponent three-pointers made (8.0)
· 29th in three-pointer attempts per game (20.7)
· 28th in fast break points allowed (16.9)
· 28th in opponent three-point percentage (38.7)
· 28th in assists allowed (24.5)
· 26th in opponent effective field-goal percentage (51.4)
· 24th in opponent field goal attempts per game (83.4)
"From our transition defense to eliminating our turnovers to playing good individual defense, half-court defense, team defense, all of those things. Everyone has to improve." Rambis said.
Rambis equates a lot of the defensive shortcomings to the team's youth and inexperience, especially in the case of rookie Wesley Johnson. Rambis is always quick to point out how difficult it is guarding someone you have never played against before.
Another overlooked aspect of the defense is Michael Beasley playing a new position. Beasley spent his first two NBA seasons with the Heat where he played the power forward and, naturally, would guard other fours. But with Kevin Love playing power forward for the Wolves, Beasley had to drop down to small forward in order to fit into the starting lineup.
With the position change comes a change of defensive assignments too. The 6-foot-9 Beasley now has to guard quicker, more athletic threes and it has been a struggle at times. Beasley is one of the players Rambis was referring to when he was talking about players who don't have a "natural basketball defensive mindset." It is clear that Beasley focuses more effort on the offensive end but still, Rambis does see improvement.
"He has gotten a lot better. From training camp to where he is now, he has gotten a lot better but he, like everyone else, has a long way to go," Rambis said.
As the Wolves continue to take their lumps in another season headed towards a high lottery pick, Rambis and Co. continue to preach patience.
"Like I have been saying all along it is the last area of a team getting connected," he said. "To be able to be on the same page, to stop all of the things that they have to be able to stop in order to put themselves in that elite category of good defensive teams. It is such a critical aspect of winning ball games in this league, we have to improve, we have to find ways to improve."