Opening Statements: Wizards vs Timberwolves, Game 24 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Timberwolves, Game 24

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Updated: December 16, 2014

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“These guys are learning that every game is tough,” Randy Wittman said after a 93-84 win over the flat Utah Jazz. “It’s hard to win games in the NBA … I think they’re learning that.

“We have played a lot of scrappy teams and this was another one, we talked about it. The Bostons and Orlandos, they’re going to play hard. Give them credit, too. They’re going to play hard throughout and our guys know that.”

Tonight, Wittman’s Wizards will face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The ‘Wolves are anything but apex predators in the NBA. They missed out on the playoffs last season with a 40-42 record and find themselves at a lower trophic level this season—the bottom of the Western Conference. Familiar Flip Saunders and his wolfpack are just 1-11 against teams above .500 and have lost eight of their last nine games. They’ve also dropped nine of the last ten contests in D.C.

The Wizards, meanwhile, are looking down on much of the Association from their position near the top of the Eastern Conference. They’re 4-4 against teams .500 or better, 13-2 against the bottom-feeding squads, and have set a franchise record with 12 home wins in 14 tries.

This one shouldn’t be close. The ever-wise oddsmakers in Las Vegas certainly don’t think it will be. The Wiz have John Wall, after all.

But, as former T-Wolves legend Kevin Garnett once said (as a Celtic), “Anything’s possible. ANYTHING IS POSSIBUUUUUUUUUUUURHHGLE.”

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Randy Scott Wittman better have his Wiz Kids ready.

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The great Steve McPherson (@steventurous), of Rolling Stone and sportsblogging fame, stopped by TAI to preview tonight’s hunt. Lock ‘n’ load.


Teams: Wizards vs Timberwolves
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Chinatown, D.C.
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 13 points.


Q #1: You’ve made it quite clear that you’re all about that Bazz—former D-leaguer Shabazz Muhammad, who scored 28 points against the Lakers, tying his career high. He’s also leading the team in dunks.

Who the heck is THIS guy? Has he shed the “bust” label? And should he be in the starting lineup?

@steventurous: Muhammad is a weird player, which is part of what makes him so great. I didn’t think he’d ever be able to play shooting guard in the NBA, but after dropping a lot of weight in the offseason he’s more explosive and quicker and it seems like he might actually be a 2. Which is even weirder because his favorite things to do are rebound (especially on the offensive end) and work in the post. I love players like this—ones with odd skill sets who can disrupt a game. For that reason, he may ultimately be a better sixth man than starter, but given that the Wolves are in an experimental mode (switching everything on defense, for example), why not roll the dice and see what happens? He has a ton of energy and it could help get them off to better starts.

Q #2: Kobe, after that same Lakers game, said that he saw some of his younger self in Minnesota’s prized rookie, Andrew Wiggins: “It’s like looking at a reflection of myself 19 years ago. It was pretty cool.” What do you see?

@steventurous: For the record, I didn’t think Kobe was so much saying that Wiggins played like a young Kobe as he recognized the raw talent that was only beginning to learn the ins and outs of the game. That seems pretty accurate for Wiggins. He’s already delivered some defensive highlights—like when he stopped a 3-on-1 break the other night—and his offense is coming along. He scores, but doesn’t do it very efficiently and doesn’t attack as much as he should. He loves that little Kobe-esque spin and stepback, which isn’t a consistent shot for anyone except Kobe. If he gets better at taking the easy way, he’ll improve a lot.

Q #3: While we’re talking about young, raw talent, what are your thoughts on second-year big men Gorgui Dieng and Anthony Bennett?

(I was a huge fan of Dieng’s game in college—he understood spacing, rebounded, and could knock down the midrange J. Anthony Bennett … not so much.)

@steventurous: Bennett’s often been good, but has his inconsistent moments. His go-to right now is that midrange jumper around the free throw line, which he makes a surprising amount, but it’s not a great shot other than as a safety valve. (Dante Cunningham lived from that same spot for the ‘Wolves, but it’s not going to wear the other team down or open up other looks.) He has shown a desire to go to the basket hard, which is great. I think he’s coming along. Dieng is terrific and in a very quiet way, which is necessary on a team with a lot of developing young talent. If Wiggins and LaVine et al really develop into something good, Dieng will have lots of articles written about how he’s low-key the most important part of holding it all together.

Q #4: Minnesota, despite racking up 10 or more steals in 10 of the past 14 games, have the third worst DefRtg in the NBA. What’s going on here?

@steventurous: Well, first of all, their transition defense is terrible. I haven’t looked up the numbers on it, but I’m almost certain they would back me up.

[Ed note: Opponents score 18.7 points per game off Minnesota turnovers (8th-most). The Timberwolves also give up 14 transition points per game (8th-most). —JCT]

Part of that problem stems from the offense, which A) isn’t really a system and B) doesn’t look to get shooters open at the arc. This means there aren’t guys back there to get out early in transition on defense. Add in the fact that Minnesota likes to crash the offensive glass (4th in offensive rebounds) and there aren’t a lot of guys to stop those breaks. They also only have one healthy player over 6-foot-10 right now (Dieng), which has something to do with giving up the most points in the paint (48.2 per game). They need Rubio back to anchor the defense at the point of attack.

Q #5: Flip Saunders’ team is hurting. Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, and Mo Williams have missed multiple games, which leaves the team at the bottom of the Western Conference. Not even the most die-hard ‘Wolves fan would have picked them to be a playoff team, but give us your future forecast.

Also, is patience the magic word? (Seems like T-Wolves fans aren’t too happy with the job Saunders has done as GM/coach.)

@steventurous: Once it was clear that Rubio, Pek and Martin were all going to be out for an extended period of time, I think the team pivoted pretty cleanly to not exactly tanking the season, but at least knowing they were going to ride the rookies and sophomores and just try a bunch of stuff. The key right now is putting the young players into all kinds of situations. This can be a fertile growing period for players like Wiggins, LaVine, Muhammad and the rest, and I honestly think the team is better now than they were a month ago. It might be tough to watch, but these games where they can hang in there until the end—even if they don’t win—are more valuable in a way than all the practice time they’re putting in.

Casual fans of the ‘Wolves are probably disappointed that they haven’t jumped out to a better start in the Wiggins era, but I think people who’ve really followed them understand what’s happening and are giving Saunders credit for some good GM work. All those midrange jumpers though … that’s a conversation for another time.

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John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.