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Wolves trying to figure out how to close games

MINNEAPOLIS--The Timberwolves are talented, young, fast and athletic -- maybe more so than any other NBA team. That's why many had Minnesota pegged for its first playoff appearance since 2004 this season under first-year coach Tom Thibodeau. The ...

MINNEAPOLIS-The Timberwolves are talented, young, fast and athletic - maybe more so than any other NBA team.

That's why many had Minnesota pegged for its first playoff appearance since 2004 this season under first-year coach Tom Thibodeau.

The thought process: Who can keep up with the Timberwolves? The number of teams capable of doing that probably could be counted on one hand.

"The big thing, I know from coaching against these guys, is you don't want that speed in transition coming at you," Thibodeau said.

But the number of teams that can slow the Timberwolves (1-4) is proving to be a much higher figure.

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The Timberwolves have talked about wanting to get out and use their athleticism in the open floor, which they've done well in the first halves of games.

Through five games, Minnesota is averaging 60 points over the first 24 minutes. The problem has been closing games. The Wolves have been heavily outplayed in the third quarters of each of their four losses.

A wealth of problems have contributed to the Timberwolves' tough go; pace has been one of them.

Despite wanting to play young, wild and free, Minnesota ranks just 21st in pace this season, according to ESPN's John Hollinger. The Timberwolves are using an average of 97.9 possessions per game.

Pace isn't necessarily an indicator of success. You can play slowly and win: The San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors rank in the bottom four of Hollinger's pace rankings, yet the Spurs are 5-2 and the Raptors 4-2.

But those are more veteran rosters, and there's a need for younger teams like Minnesota to get out on the run. Athletes like Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns are going to thrive in transition.

"No one wants to see us coming at them with our speed. So if they can grab and hold, that's what they'd like to have," Thibodeau said. "So for us, (the key is) to play fast, make quick decisions with the ball, move, hit the open man and not allow them to catch up."

That's the type of basketball the Los Angeles Lakers are playing. Like Minnesota, the Lakers are flush with young talent, though they appear to lack the potential superstar players the Timberwolves possess. But Los Angeles is getting up and down the floor. Under first-year coach Luke Walton, the Lakers lead the league in Hollinger's pace metric, using 105.3 possessions per game. As a result, Los Angeles is 4-3 with a win over the Golden State Warriors.

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Meanwhile, Minnesota is allowing opponents to control the tempo in the second half. Other teams are bogging the game down and using physical advantages to get the better of the Timberwolves.

"It's a physical league," Thibodeau said. "It's body on body, and you have to get used to that. We can be physical, too. And that's important. We want to play hard and physical without fouling. And I think we're getting there, but I think when you look at guys that have been around, they have all the tricks."

Thibodeau suggested that pushing the pace starts on defense, an area where Minnesota hasn't been up to its new coach's standards.

"The better our defense is, the more we're in the open floor," Thibodeau said. "And you can't grab and hold us there. So that's what we're trying to get to."

BRIEFLY

Thibodeau said point guard Ricky Rubio is making "steady progress." Rubio has been out since suffering a sprained elbow Oct. 29. "The rest part is good," Thibodeau said. "As soon as he's able to get through some practices, we'll have an idea of how long (he'll be out)."

Related Topics: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
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