MINNEAPOLIS — Kevin Love spoke with intense
profundity back on the Timberwolves’ media day, outlining a cornerstone of his
team’s potential this season.
“We have to be the team that hits first,” the
superstar power forward said. “We can’t be hit first and then try to pick
ourselves back up.”
While they have an unenviable task every offseason, the
NBA’s schedule makers didn’t do Minnesota many favors in that regard.
For the first time in the franchise’s 25-year history, the
Timberwolves will have played 18 games by the end of November. Their 1-1 trip
to the City of Angels over Veterans Day weekend was the second of five
back-to-backs — three on the road, two home-and-aways — between the start of
the season and Dec. 1.
Only Dallas and San Antonio face that many
two-games-in-two-nights stints. Minnesota receive more than one day of rest
between contests just twice this month — they haven’t yet.
Rick Adelman detests it.
Especially perturbing, he said, are travel plans like the
ones coming up for the Timberwolves this weekend. After playing in Denver,
they’ll board a plane and return to Minneapolis for a home game against Boston.
Nov. 19, they’re on the road at Washington before hosting the Clippers the next
day at the Target Center.
Then they’ll fly to play at Brooklyn on Nov. 22 and return
home to host the Rockets on Nov. 23.
“I don’t think Denver and Minnesota are close or
Minnesota and Houston are close,” Adelman said with a smirk. “I never
understood why, when they do something like that, they don’t just give you a
team that’s a little more in your region.”
But for the same reason the Timberwolves will travel more
miles than any other team this year, their home state’s geographic isolation
among Western Conference clubs plays a part. The only teams in Minnesota’s
“region” all compete in the East; Denver (698 miles away) is the
closest Western Conference city.
They aren’t playing cupcakes, either. The jungle that is the
Timberwolves’ November slate includes two contests against Oklahoma City, the
Clippers, Denver and Dallas and road dates with Houston and Indiana.
It’s a frustrating state of affairs that aren’t going
anywhere anytime soon. More relevantly, it’s a hurdle the Timberwolves must
overcome if they’re to turn around the organization’s fortunes.
“That’s the way it is,” said Adelman, whose team
takes a 5-3 mark into Wednesday night’s home matchup with Cleveland. “We
knew it was gonna be a tough month.”
Historically, Minnesota carries
a .372 winning percentage in the month of November, which ranks 26th among
active NBA franchises since 1985-86.
So far this year, they’ve survived.
Kevin Love is off to the best start of his career, leading
the league in rebounding (108) and ranking second in points (26.4 per game)
while dishing out five assists per game. Kevin Martin’s 55.8-percent 3-point
clip is seventh among shooters with 20 or more attempts — he’s 24-for-43 —
and he’s the NBA’s No. 5 scorer at 24.6 points per game.
Ricky Rubio has struggled shooting but continues to excel as
a playmaker and point defender. He leads the league in steals (27) and ranks
second in assists (71) behind Chris Paul.
Big man Nikola Pekovic finally found a groove in the
Timberwolves’ nail-gnawing loss against the Clippers on Monday. The center shot
40.3 percent — about 12 off his career average — in Minnesota’s first seven
games but went 11-for-15 from the floor for 25 points and 10 rebounds.
While it ended with close-in shots by Pekovic and Love
falling off the rim, the Timberwolves’ 109-107 defeat may have provided the
best window into their identity early in the year. They twice rallied back from
11 down and nearly overcame a severe lack of bench production that has got to
improve if they’re going to make a postseason push.
The Clippers’ reserves outscored those of Minnesota 40-17,
and the Timberwolves’ 19.6 bench points per game are good for last in the NBA.
But Adelman liked his team’s grit, especially on the second
day of one of those dreaded road back-to-backs.
“That’s the way you have to play,” the coach said.
“It’s a back-to-back; they’re waiting for us. We have that all month, so
we have to continue to try and get better.”