Timberwolves still have much to correct on defense
Since Nov. 1, Minnesota has a defensive rating of 117.4 — third worst out of the NBA’s 30 teams.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Karl-Anthony Towns was asked what the Minnesota Timberwolves could bottle from their victory Sunday in Cleveland as they move forward in the season. The big man’s response: The defense.
“The way we played defense was great. First quarter, second quarter, third quarter,” Towns said. “Fourth quarter they got hot and we had some lapses, but there were a lot of good things to take out of there.”
The stats say otherwise. Yes, Minnesota suffocated the Cavaliers in the first quarter, holding Cleveland to 20 points. But the short-handed Cavaliers, who were playing without two all-stars, put up 104 points over the final three periods.
They scored 30 points in the second quarter, 34 in the third and 40 in the fourth. Darius Garland was essentially Cleveland’s lone offensive threat, and he exploded for 51 points. A strong defensive showing it was not.
And that continued a trend for Minnesota over the past two weeks. To open the season, the promise of Rudy Gobert helping to elevate the Wolves into a consistently great defensive team was bearing statistical fruit. From the start of the season through Halloween, Minnesota was sixth in defensive rating, allowing 107.5 points per 100 possessions.
That number didn’t exactly match the eye test, but Minnesota was hopeful that if it could post that type of number when it was figuring things out early, things could only go up from there.
Instead, they have gotten far worse on the defensive end. Since Nov. 1, Minnesota has a defensive rating of 117.4 — third worst out of the NBA’s 30 teams. The Wolves have just two wins in that span. In that time, the Wolves are allowing opponents to shoot 27.4 free throws per game — the most in the league — while opponents also shoot 40.5 percent from 3 point range, which ranks the Wolves third-worst in the NBA.
It’s not a great combination.
Towns and Gobert have been in consistent foul trouble. That’s a product, Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said, of allowing ball handlers to run at the defense without resistance.
Opponents are getting easy buckets off cuts while guarded by the likes of Anthony Edwards and, especially, D’Angelo Russell. That, Finch noted, is an easy fix if players simply pay attention.
“Just don’t come up the floor unnecessarily,” he said. “Pretty basic basketball, stay between your man and the basket, particularly when there’s not a lot going on.”
Russell feels like improvement is occurring, even with the mental lapses on defense. Those corrections can help build a foundation when addressed.
“We continue to harp on them in the film and we see these things,” Russell said. “It allows you to not want to be on film.”
Any improvements do show themselves in small doses for Minnesota, such as in the first quarter in Cleveland. The trouble for the Timberwolves has been sustaining that play for four quarters. A big part of the problem, Gobert noted, is urgency.
“I think when we’re up 20, it’s human nature to get a little more comfortable,” the center said. “For us, it happens within the flow of the game, every game when we play well we start getting a little comfortable. That’s gotta go.”
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