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Notebook: Hot shooting not enough for Wolves to beat LeBron

Wolves let another winnable game slip by them

The Cavaliers aren’t the infallible juggernaut that they have been in recent years. Every year they seem to go through some strife and pull through. But this year feels different. The roster is older and the integration of Isaiah Thomas has been more difficult than most expected.

They lost Kevin Love to hand surgery in the last couple of weeks and things weren’t going well then. Entering Wednesday’s game, the Cavaliers had lost 13 of their last 20 and were 4-9 in their last 13 games. Meanwhile, the team was putting out statements saying Tyron Lue’s job was safe and reports of locker room tension were surfacing.

Coupled by beating the Cavaliers 127-99 at home just a month ago, it seemed that this could be a chance to steal a road victory. Winning on the road has been a challenge for the Timberwolves but beating Eastern Conference teams on the road has been especially difficult.

It’s not that the Wolves played poorly. They shot 58 percent from the field and mixed in a healthy number of 3-pointers, which was a refreshing change of pace.

As has been the case all season, the offense wasn’t the problem. They lost 140-138 in overtime but anytime you shoot that well and score that much, you should win. However, that advantage is negated when you allow the opponent to shoot just as well and score as many points.

Poor rebounding has made winning difficult this season. At home, the Timberwolves are the 18th-best total rebounding team but third-worst on the road. Only Philadelphia and Oklahoma City grab more offensive rebounds at home than the Wolves but the Wolves are just 16th in offensive rebounds per game on the road.

This seems to fall in line with some of the lower energy games we’ve seen from them on the road this season.

But there is a problem with this. These Timberwolves like to limit extra possessions for their opponents and create more for themselves. They’re the best team in the NBA at limiting their turnovers and second-best in forcing them. Offensive rebounds are another way to get second-chance points and if they’re not doing that, it’s hard for them to keep up because they can’t shoot their way back into games on most nights.

Overall, the Wolves are second-best in both points off of turnovers and second-chance points this season. No one averages more second-chance opportunities on their home floor than the Wolves but they’re also just 17th on the road. This trend continued against the Cavaliers, which is somewhat attributable to the offensive rebounding battle.

While this game wasn’t a sure thing, it was a winnable game. The Cavaliers may still have talent but they seemed ready to fall apart at the seams. This was the Wolves chance to further frustrate them and get a nice road win.

They can do it again in Chicago on Friday but as we’ve learned with this team, nothing is certain outside of Target Center.

LeBron James is a warrior

What LeBron James is doing is unprecedented.

At age 33, he is having arguably his best season. Yet, he has more mileage on him than any 33-year old in league history. He’s 22nd in all-time minutes played at 43,236. The two players in front of him on the list, Vince Carter and Joe Johnson, both came into the league before him.

At an average of 2,981 minutes per season, James will be top-20 in minutes played.

This goes without mentioning his playoff minutes. James is already just 243 playoff minutes behind Tim Duncan for the most all-time. When you add in those 9,127 minutes, James has played over 52,000 career minutes. Only six players have ever played that many regular season minutes since most players begin to decline at around 30,000 minutes.

But not James.

The multi-time champion and MVP just keeps going and did so against the Timberwolves on Wednesday. James played 48 minutes of an overtime game and finished with 37 points, 10 rebounds, and 15 assists.

James also brought the Cavs back from the brink four times late in the game. He hit a 3-pointer late in regulation to tie the game at 129. In overtime, he answered Butler and Wiggins baskets to tie the score. His block at the rim with four seconds left in overtime set up his game-winning shot on the other end.

Just look at this. James catches the inbounds pass at the free throw line with one second left before calmly turning to hit the shot before time expires.

Despite James’ age and his team’s inner turmoil, he still managed to will them to this victory. His triple-double on Wednesday wasn’t stat padding, it was survival. With Love out and the team on a free fall in the standings, James delivered a playoff-like performance his team desperately needed.

Franchise shooting records fall in Cleveland

You wouldn’t think this Timberwolves team would set any franchise records for 3-pointers. The Wolves take and make a low volume of 3-pointers in contrast to the rest of the league. Their efficiency isn’t awful but it is below league average. Yet, here we are.

The team made 19 3-pointers on Wednesday, eclipsing the previous franchise record by one. Funny enough, the game the record was previously set in happened against the Cavs in 2010.

Both teams combined to set the Timberwolves’ franchise record for 3-pointers made in a game between two teams with 40. Of the Cavaliers’ 21 3-pointers, LeBron James and J.R. Smith combined for 11. Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler, and Andrew Wiggins accounted for 14 of the Wolves’ 19 made treys.

Unfortunately, the Timberwolves also shot their highest field goal percentage in a loss (58.1). The teams’ combined 58.6 field goal percentage was also a franchise record for two teams.

The funny thing about this is that many of us have been wondering why this team doesn’t take more 3-pointers. Then, one night in Cleveland they decide to take 33 in a game. Just as Tom Thibodeau expanded the rotation after the home loss to Philadelphia, it’ll be interesting to see if their volume from beyond the arc increases going forward.

No one is asking for this team to take 35 but it would be nice to see them take close to 30 every game.

Wolves face former teammates as Butler returns to Chicago on Friday

There were some mixed feelings over the trade that landed the Timberwolves Jimmy Butler. On one hand, you had elation over acquiring the multi-time all-star but many were sad to see Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn go.

Anytime you have the chance to get a player like Butler, you do it. You’re almost always going to have to sacrifice something in the process but you hope the return is worth it.

This trade is playing out like that for both teams.

Butler is once again an all-star, averaging an efficient 22 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game. Despite the defensive struggles continuing, Butler has been a major factor in the teams 50-win trajectory. For a franchise that has been wandering the lottery desert since 2004, Butler’s presence has been the oasis.

Dunn has improved to being a capable NBA-level shooter while also dishing out six assists and grabbing four boards per game. As a second-year player, he was always going to improve. Chicago was going to be able to give him more playing time as a rebuilding team and he’s making the most of it.

But that’s the trade-off. The Wolves get to win now with Butler and the Bulls get to be bad for a few more before hopefully winning in a few seasons.

LaVine has played 11 games for the Bulls since returning from his ACL injury. His shooting and assist numbers are below what they were during his breakout last season but that’s to be expected as he’s slowly reacclimated to the NBA grind. LaVine is still playing just 23.9 minutes per game right now. Don’t worry, he can still throw it down with the best of them.

Using win shares, Basketball-Reference says the Wolves traded five past win shares for 8.1 future win shares. The Bulls dealt 49.3 win shares for 3.6 so far. In all likelihood, this trade will wind up looking closer as the Bulls add pieces around Dunn and LaVine.

It seems that this trade is one that will work out for both sides going forward.

 

 





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