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
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
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
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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