We’ve made it to November, and the Minnesota Timberwolves have a winning record at 3-2. Not bad, by anyone’s estimate. The team has dropped a game it should have won (New Orleans Pelicans), and it won a game it definitely should have lost (Milwaukee Bucks, 2021 NBA Champions, Employers of Finals and League MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo).
The other game that Minnesota lost came at the hands of its bitter rivals, the Denver Nuggets. I am not one to necessarily believe in the merits of a “good loss,” but holding Denver to 93 points has to be a good thing. They have the current league MVP Nikola Jokic, and the game was slated to be a litmus test of whether or not the Wolves can hang with the big boys of the Western Conference. They didn’t win, but they seemed to pass the test.
This loss is all the more tenable when one considers just how bad the Wolves played. Malik Beasley finally got going, but everyone else seemed set on taking the game off. Karl-Anthony Towns could only put up 11 shots, a low total that should never happen again as long as he is playing. Anthony Edwards clanked his way to 6-19 from the field and never found his rhythm. D’Angelo Russell continued his inefficient start to his year, going 6-of-15 and only scoring 14 points alongside Towns and Edwards.
When DLo starts the game by taking poor shots, it sends the entire offense out of sync, and the team suffers. No player could get into a flow on offense, and the team missed countless bunnies at the rim. On the day, the Wolves shot 38.9% from the floor overall and a miserly 21.7% from the midrange. Minnesota only converted 54.3% of their attempted shots at the rim against the Nuggets (19 of 35), good for the 18th percentile across the league.
The defense this year has been wildly encouraging, but the Wolves need to focus on the good looks it gets on offense if they want to lock in for the playoff hunt. The Denver game was easily within their grasp. Despite the absence of Jamal Murray, the Nuggets are projected to be among the best in the West again this year. Competitiveness only gets you so far. It is time to translate that competitiveness into wins.
The next game the Timberwolves play is Monday night against the Orlando Magic at the Target Center. The Magic come into the game at 1-6 and will be hungry for a win against the Wolves. And unfortunately, Minnesota historically has played down to the level of their opponents. Orlando is in the bottom half of the league defending against shots at the rim and in the midrange, so it should be another opportunity for Russell and Edwards to see some shots fall and boost their confidence.
The Magic are dead last in the league in defensive rating. Minnesota cannot afford a flat performance against a team like this that is floundering in the early throes of the season. Nov. 1 is too early to definitively call anything a must-win game. Still, with the Timberwolves staring down the barrel of a .500 record, they must play with urgency and intensity. Assuming the subsequent two-game series with the Los Angeles Clippers (1-4 at the time I write this) is split 1-1, this week’s slate of games should culminate in a winning record for Minnesota.
The offensive game plan should remain simple: get guys good looks and don’t force any stupid shots. The shots at the rim will start to fall. Saturday’s performance won’t be the norm for this squad. If Chris Finch can orchestrate some easy buckets for Russell and Edwards early, they should settle down and not look for their shot in unwarranted times. If they can stick to the script and play a more team-oriented game, things will open up for Towns, opening the floodgates for the rest of the team to bully the Orlando Magic.
Hit your layups, and you’ll win games. That seems to be a decent enough mantra for the 2021-22 Timberwolves. They should emerge victorious against the Magic and set themselves up for success later in the week if they are hitting those shots at a league-average rate Monday night.