Wolves’ defensive improvement has to ‘come from within’

MINNEAPOLIS — Having won an NBA championship with Dallas

and playing on a pair of playoff teams in Denver, Corey Brewer is no stranger

to the elements that comprise a contender.

So far, he says, the 9-10 Timberwolves are missing at least

one. “We don’t have an identity yet,” Brewer said.

Or at least not an effective one.

Through 19 games, Minnesota’s perception as an offensive

juggernaut with potentially crippling defensive deficiencies has come to

fruition. The Timberwolves rank third in the NBA in scoring with 105.9 points

per game but are 23rd in stopping, allowing opponents to score 101.8 points a

contest.

Kevin Love continues to insert himself into early MVP

conversations. Ricky Rubio looks even better than his old, pre-ACL-tear self.

Brewer and fellow free-agent addition Kevin Martin have been as helpful as

expected.

Yet Minnesota has lost six of its past eight, failing to

limit adversaries enough to string together victories. It’s come against prime

competition — the Timberwolves’ past seven opponents have a combined record of

78-41 — but a taxing schedule the first two months of the season is only part

of the problem.

“We can score,” said Love, the NBA’s leading

rebounder and No. 5 scorer. “We’ve got to, one, play defense and, two,

pick up our energy.”

The two, of course, go hand in hand.

Never was that more evident than in Minnesota’s 113-103

defeat Sunday at Oklahoma City. The Timberwolves led for most of the game

before surrendering an 8-0 run to open the fourth quarter.

Sustained vitality. Rick Adelman pines to see more of it.

“You can have a little surge,” Adelman said,

“but it’s got to be a consistent effort all the way through.”

As foreseen by Adelman and every other source of

Timberwolves knowledge, the team’s defensive struggles start in the paint. Love

is a menacing rebounder, and Nikola Pekovic has settled back into his role as a

reliable post scorer, but neither is much of a shot blocker. Behind them,

defensive specialist Ronny Turiaf remains out indefinitely with a fractured

right elbow while rookie Gorgui Dieng is still adjusting to NBA life.

The consequence: 45.3 points in the paint for opponents, a

mark that ranks 26th in the NBA.

Minnesota, despite its league-best opponent turnover mark,

has allowed more field-goal attempts — and makes — than any other team. Rubio

and Brewer are first and fifth, respectively, in the league in steals and have

helped the Timberwolves rack up 20.1 points off turnovers per game. But foes

have been allowed, too often, to convert when they don’t give it away.

Those are the main issues. The solution, Adelman has said

since the beginning, isn’t all that complex.

Slide over to help on defense, and don’t take possessions

off. Again, mutually reliant instructions.

“There’s only so much talking we can do,” Adelman

said. “They have to police themselves, and they have to hold each other

responsible just like we do.

“It’s got to come from within.”

That means continuing to communicate on screens and cuts, a

necessity that Minnesota’s players admitted they struggled with during training

camp.

But so much of defense in the game Dr. Naismith invented

comes down to want-to. The Timberwolves, Brewer said, need more of it.

“We’ve got to get some kind of swag or energy or

something,” Brewer said.

Establishing that in the next week won’t be easy, not

against the league’s reigning conference champions in a three-night span that

begins Wednesday in Mexico City against San Antonio.

But without a little defensive improvement, Minnesota’s

hopes at resurgence will keep suffering blows.

Pekovic put it simply: “You play without energy, (you)

let them score really easily.”

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