Wolves miss out on practice due to schedule
MINNEAPOLIS — In any other year, during any other season, they would sound like excuses.
But Rick Adelman doesn't make excuses. Instead the Minnesota Timberwolves head coach explains, as painful as it sometimes might be:
"We haven't had a chance to drill it enough . . . "
"We've just had such a short time . . . "
"The time frame we've had . . . "
These words are punctuated with sighs, shrugs and the language of a successful coach who for the first time ever feels backed against a wall by the schedule he must follow. Adelman is trying his best to impose an order to the chaos he inherited when he agreed to coach last fall, but with little time to practice, he's finding the results harder to come by.
In the first 16 days of their season, Dec. 26 through Jan. 10, the Timberwolves played 10 games, winning three. In the first 10 days of January, the team played seven times. That means fewer practices, even skipped shootarounds in some cases. There's less of a venue for individual corrections and team adjustments, and with a young team that's still struggling to find its rhythm, the lack of practice time has been an obstacle of no small size.
After starting the season with an offense that few could complain about, the Timberwolves faltered, struggling to be efficient with the ball. Things needed to change.
Then, when Kevin Love started struggling from the 3-point line, Adelman realized he needed to find a way to get the ball to his forward closer to the basket. Add that to the list.
Next, the starters began to falter, while players like Derrick Williams, Anthony Randolph, Ricky Rubio and Wayne Ellington continued to improve off the bench. Integrating them better into the game — that's on Adelman's to-do list, as well.
"In some ways, it's been kind of difficult trying to evaluate the team and trying to make adjustments as you go," Adelman said. "You just don't have the time to do that, especially with young guys."
Making those adjustments in times other than practice can be difficult for even the most talented of teams.
"The thing that's harder, I think, is that you have to make all your corrections in your film sessions, your shootarounds, off days when you get a guy to come in and get his treatment, you'll have an individual session with him," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "But you'd much prefer to have practice. That is the best way to correct it."
Multiply his difficulties by 10, and you have what Adelman is facing with a new team that's unaccustomed to winning and struggling to close out games.
A veteran coach, Adelman entered this season with a plan. He knew what was coming. But that plan seems to have evolved, if not completely dissolved. After watching his team struggle, he began to question the preparation he'd instilled during the blink-and-it's-over preseason. Did he teach the team too much? Was he too broad in his approach? Should he have started small, focusing on two or three skills until the team mastered them?
He's asked these questions and more. He's blamed himself, a little, for something that's partially out of his control: the schedule. And on Tuesday night, that schedule presented its biggest test yet, the final game in the team's first back-to-back-to-back series of the season.
The results weren't quite what Adelman expected. After starting slow, finishing the first quarter down, 33-17, the Timberwolves rallied and hung with the Bulls for the remainder of the game. The performance was far from perfect, and players said postgame they could definitely feel the effects of the schedule, but it proved that even at the end of three games in a row, Adelman's Timberwolves shouldn't be counted out.
"This'll be my first back-to-back-to-back in the NBA, obviously," Anthony Tolliver said before the series. "I had a couple in college in the conference tournament, and I remember that third day being pretty much a grind, just to get through it. But at the end of the day, we have a lot of guys on this team that can play a lot of minutes."
His teammates proved him right, snapping out of an early malaise with a spark that seemed unlikely during such a stretch. And though the Timberwolves lost two of three games, they learned that three in a row is something they can do. Now, with two off days before they face New Orleans on Friday, they'll get a chance to catch their breath and maybe take a stab at some of those tweaks on Thursday.
Two days off in a row has become a rare luxury, and it couldn't come at a better time. Struggles and injured starters have almost forced Adelman's hand. He needs to make changes, and with an actual practice to work with, those changes might not seem so hurried.
But that's the thing about this season. Routine decisions are no longer routine, and adjustments are a long time coming. Taking action means taking a leap of faith.
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