A team can only endure so much. The Timberwolves came together to play their best basketball without Zach LaVine. Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Ricky Rubio all stepped up in LaVine’s absence. The team was 21-20 heading into Wednesday’s contest in Boston and were in the playoff chase.
When Nemanja Bjelica went down with a foot injury on Wednesday night, it seemed that the Timberwolves didn’t have enough left to make a run. Miami won the next game on Friday night on a 16-2 run.
With Bjelica and LaVine lost for the season, the team lacks floor spacers. The Wolves are last in 3-point attempts per game, 28th in 3-point field goals, and 23rd in 3-point efficiency in their last 10 games. Those numbers won’t cut it in today’s NBA.
You would think that if Rubio was having four consecutive games with 20 points or more that things would be going well. This has not been the case. A reason for that is the underwhelming bench play.
The Wolves’ reserves are averaging an NBA-worst 22.6 points per game this season. The three teams in front of them — Golden State, Cleveland, and Washington — have the likes of LeBron James and Steph Curry starting for them. The Timberwolves have no such luxuries.
A thin bench is why this team is so dependent on Bjelica and Shabazz Muhammad. The bench is 27th in 3-point percentage at 32.2 percent. The reserves are shooting 43.5 percent this season, good for 20th and bottom-10. Both Bjelica and Muhammad can hit 3’s. Yet Muhammad has made just 10 of his last 45 attempts in February and March. As for Bjelica, he made 42.3 of his 3-pointers in February but has been inconsistent in the preceding and proceeding months.
Tyus Jones has been average from beyond the arc. Kris Dunn is shooting 30.4 percent, so he’s no answer either. That leaves Brandon Rush. However, Rush plays just 20 minutes per game despite his 38 percent shooting from deep.
Shooting aside, the picture is murky. The Wolves’ reserves are last in rebounding and 28th in assists. It’s almost like there’s a reason the Wolves bench plays the fewest minutes of any in the league.
The Timberwolves, nonetheless, have remained a playoff contender into mid-March. Through injuries and a thin roster, the Wolves have remained competitive. But losing Bjelica while Muhammad hits a shooting slump may be too much for the team to overcome without LaVine. Towns and Rubio have been sensational but there may not be enough leftover. Wiggins began showing signs of fatigue after his consecutive 20-point game streak ended.
This can still be an entertaining team. With Dallas in a funk, it seems the race for the eighth seed is down to two teams: Denver and Portland.
If the Wolves are out of it, you can expect them to look to play spoiler every night. This team is too competitive and Tom Thibodeau doesn’t seem like the quitting type. Hitting 30 wins would be a nice milestone and move them past last season’s win total. Building any sort of momentum shorthanded going into next season would be a high note to end the season on.