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Notebook: Loss to the short-handed Nets, 3-pointers, slow starts

The Brooklyn Nets are not a good team. They’re also not an awful team. It’s safe to say that they’re better than the teams that have, respectively, won 20 and 21 games in the last two seasons.

While the above paragraph is true, the Wolves are the better team. You want to see them beat a team like Brooklyn, especially with the tough upcoming schedule. The Nets were missing Jeremy Lin, D’Angelo Russell, and Caris LaVert– three of their best players — on Wednesday night.

A 98-97 defeat on the road certainly isn’t an awful loss. In fact, the Wolves fought back from a 12-point deficit to take a 5-point lead in the second half. They just couldn’t put together the run to put the game away.

The Wolves got away from many of the things that have made them successful in recent weeks. Let’s take a closer look.

A slow start set the tone

The Timberwolves had run up the score on opponents at the beginning of recent games. In their previous six games, they had led by nine or more points after the first quarter. They began their last two games on 16-0 and 17-0 runs. Forcing the other team to play from behind early is an easy way to take command of a game.

Wednesday night’s contest showcased a lack of early energy. Brooklyn’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had eight points in the opening quarter but the Wolves were within two going into the second. The Nets would lead by as much as nine in the first half. The Wolves cut the deficit to two points when Spencer Dinwiddie hit a 30-foot 3-pointer at the end of the half to give the Nets a 5-point halftime lead.

It seemed like the Wolves would turn things around in the third quarter. The Wolves would eventually go on a 23-7 run to retake the lead but the Nets battled back. Brooklyn may not be the most talented team but they play hard every night. They were decidedly outmatched but never relented.

There is something to be said for having talent in the NBA in that it can keep you in games when it’s not your night. The Wolves started slow and couldn’t pull away but the game wasn’t decided until Dinwiddie’s basket to give the Nets the 98-97 lead with 10.1 seconds to go. Jimmy Butler missed the go-ahead bucket at the buzzer to seal their fate.

Chasing 3-pointers with 2-pointers is difficult

We know this Wolves team shoots a low volume of 3’s. We also know they’re one of the least-efficient teams from distance as well. On Wednesday night, the Wolves were 1-for-11 while their opponent was 14-for 30. To put that in perspective, they were outscored 42-3 from beyond the arc. This disparity makes winning difficult on any night, yet the Wolves were within two points of a victory.

The reason the Wolves were competitive in this game was their free throw advantage. Yes, they committed 10 fewer turnovers than the Nets but the line is where they nearly made up for their poor shooting. The Wolves were 24-for-30 at the line while the Nets attempted 11 free throws all night.

Had the Wolves made one more 3-pointer, they would have won.

The Timberwolves were uncharacteristically out-rebounded. On the season, the Wolves are 16th in total rebounds per game and seventh in offensive rebounds per game. The Nets had a 38-32 edge on the glass and had eight second-chance points. While the Wolves had 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting in second-chance situations, they likely didn’t have enough.

While things like rebounding, turnovers, and free throws are all important areas, the Timberwolves cannot neglect the 3-pointer like this. It would be ill-advised for this roster to hoist 30 per game but just a few more attempts might have swung this game. Had they made just eight, they could have won handily but they attempted just eight. That’s not going to cut it in today’s game.

Wolves will be thankful for day off before facing Celtics

You hope that the Wolves come out with better energy against Boston than we saw in Brooklyn. If travel was attributable to the lack of energy to begin the game, then having a day off before facing one of the NBA’s best will help. The Timberwolves play in Boston on Friday.

The bad news? Boston will also get a rest day.

The Celtics will be returning home to play the Timberwolves after blowing out the Cavaliers in Cleveland. Boston led by as much as 23 points, which led to no player playing more than 30 minutes. The Celtics will be well-rested but the Cavaliers are an intense matchup and this was the first time Kyrie Irving. If you want to establish yourself as the team to beat in the East, you have to prove you can beat LeBron. This was no doubt still a hard-fought game despite the score.

Boston has the depth advantage on the Wolves but the Nets still won on Wednesday. The Wolves are no longer a potential trap game for better teams and will need to be at their best. Making the most of their day off to regroup and make sure they’re ready to go on Friday.

Unfortunately, history is not on the Wolves’ side as they’ve lost 11-straight in Boston and haven’t won on the road against the Celtics since 2005.

The Nets rebuild is on the right track

Imagine taking over the Nets’ general manager job like Sean Marks did. Marks took over the job in 2016 knowing that they would have an upcoming pick swap with the Celtics in 2017 and owing the team’s first-round pick to Cleveland via Boston in 2018.

This was as a result of the 2013 draft night trade by former general manager Billy King that brought Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Gerald Wallace to Brooklyn. That team was a failure to launch and left the team with dim prospects for rebuilding the team with no picks or young talent.

In his short tenure, Marks turned Thaddeus Young into LaVert and a second-round pick. He also turned Justin Hamilton into DeMarre Carroll and two draft picks. He also made deals to acquire 2015 second-overall pick, D’Angelo Russell. His hallmark has been finding young players like Dinwiddie, Jahlil Okafor, and Russell and surrounding them with useful veterans he can turn into more picks or prospects.

When the Cavaliers and Celtics made the Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas trade, the inclusion of the 2018 Nets picked was talked up as a big asset. Now, it’s looking like a marginal lottery pick because of the savvy moves Marks has made. Hiring Kenny Atkinson to coach this team has also been a great move; his team plays hard every night and they now have 15 wins on the season.

It might take awhile for the Nets to become relevant again but they’re on track to do it quicker than many could have imagined.

Spencer Dinwiddie is a great story

Spencer Dinwiddie may not be a household name but is a favorite among NBA diehards. A 6’6” point guard, Dinwiddie was selected 38th overall by Detroit in 2014 after three years at Colorado.

Dinwiddie spent two years being sent up and down from the G-League hoping to stick with the Pistons full-time. He was eventually dealt in the Summer of 2016 to Chicago for Cameron Bairstow; the Bulls cut him three weeks later. Dinwiddie was re-signed a few weeks later but Chicago but waived again after training camp.

Then, in December of 2016, the Nets came calling with a multi-year deal. Dinwiddie played 59 games that season, playing 22.2 minutes per game. Dinwiddie finally proved he could hit some shots, shooting 44.4 percent from the floor and 37 percent on 3-pointers.

His efficiency has come down some this season but is playing confidently and aggressively. With his height, he’s a difficult matchup for most guards.

On Wednesday night, Dinwiddie won the game for the Nets. The guard finished with 26 points and nine assists, including the game-winning shot. Most impressively, Dinwiddie spent the night blowing by Taj Gibson and going right at Jimmy Butler all night long.

He may not be a star but it’s beginning to look like Dinwiddie will be a rotation player for years to come.


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