1. Will .500 Wolves Avoid 10th Straight Lottery?
MINNEAPOLIS -- Whether anybody within the Minnesota Timberwolves organization is willing to admit it or not, the proverbial clock is ticking toward the summer of 2015. It's not as dire of a situation as some may claim because Kevin Love is much more focused on getting his team to the playoffs this season and next season, rather than weighing contract offers that legally can't be presented for another 16 months.
The Wolves are looking to get to the playoffs this season, not because they're worried about retaining Love's services after his current contract, but also because they're a professional basketball team that would like to make a seemingly elusive appearance in the postseason. With 23 games left in a frustrating and disappointing season heading into Wednesday's matchup with the New York Knicks, a victory over a struggling laughingstock was supposed to be a likely scenario.
Instead, the Wolves dropped another frustrating loss in all-too-familiar fashion with a 118-106 home loss.
"We came off a long road trip, we knew we had to bring energy from the start," Love said after the loss. "But it seemed like all night they hit a lot of shots and got what they wanted."
This team has struggled all season long with bringing energy in the first half of games they need to make a statement in. They let a downtrodden Knicks team exploit that lack of energy and a season-long shaky defense in the first 24 minutes before making a charge in the third quarter. It was a charge that was quickly answered with a 15-2 run by the Knicks to open the first six minutes of the fourth.
This stretch was possibly the death knell of the Wolves' 2013-14 campaign, as they couldn't take advantage of losses by the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies on the same night, and stand five games out of the West's final No. 8 seed.
"Well, every loss [is damaging], but it doesn't mean anything," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said after the game. "Other teams are losing. We're behind them, but we can't give in to say, 'Well, this is a killer.'
"I don't worry about, 'Is this really damaging?' I worry about the way we played. I worry about the way we're going to play against Detroit. That's what I worry about now. Can these guys respond and get back at it on Friday and win that game?"
That's where the Wolves have found themselves all season long. They've dropped games they're supposed to claim as their bounty, only to have to circle the wagons and figure out how to change their course, which is headed for a 10th straight lottery appearance. It's a routine they should have figured out by now, but still have to solve as games tick off the calendar. The Wolves had playoff aspirations coming into the season, but find themselves as a .500 team with only 22 games remaining and multiple hurdles to jump.
Is this roster, with a seemingly healthy amount of talent, really as good/bad as the team's .500 record after 60 games?
"I can't answer that until the season is over with," Adelman said. "I really can't. We're a .500 team right now but we just won six out of seven on the road, so it's really hard to answer that. I think we'll be able to judge that at the end of the year, but right now I've got to figure that we're not a .500 team.
"We've got to continue to win games. We're also not head and heels above the teams we're playing. A lot of times you look at teams' records, you look at [the Knicks'] record, they're 21-40 coming in here. I don't look at that record, I look at the players."
The players the Knicks were able to use against the Wolves definitely played above their record. Carmelo Anthony scored 33 points and seemed to get whatever shot he wanted on the floor. Tyson Chandler recorded 15 points, 14 rebounds and helped keep Love to just one point on 0-for-6 shooting in the second half. The ghost of the 2012-13 Knicks haunted the 2013-14 Wolves on Wednesday by hitting 11-of-27 from 3-point range and turning the ball over only 12 times.
It was the way the Knicks are supposed to play against a Wolves team that is also supposed to be better and building toward the postseason. Instead, Minnesota once again has to regroup and figure out how to improve their future standing in a competitive Western Conference.
"My feeling is we're not a .500 team," Adelman explained. "But we say it all the time. We've got to go out and prove it. That's the bottom line. You can't talk about it, you've got to go out and do it."
Once again, the Wolves weren't able to do it as the clock continues to tick.
Zach Harper's work appears regularly on A Wolf Among Wolves, part of the TrueHoop Network.
2. Around the Association
MVP: James Harden had 25 points in the second half, 31 total, and ensured that the Rockets' offense could stay one step ahead of a Magic team that was really on their midrange game Wednesday night.
X-factor: Nikola Vucevic really stymied Dwight Howard's post efforts in the first half, but Houston adjusted offensively and used Dwight more on lobs and the pick-and-roll. Dwight finished with 19 points and 14 boards in his return to Orlando.
That was ... rough: Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas all took time on the bench with various cuts and hits. The game even got slightly chippy in the second quarter, when Howard and Mo Harkless exchanged technical fouls.
MVP: Trevor Ariza, who attempted just 43 3-pointers in his first four seasons, is among the NBA's top 10 in shots made beyond the arc during the 2013-2014 campaign. He has now hit 31 out of his past 48 3-point attempts, and happened, in his nonchalant and almost incognizant way, to lead all scorers in this game with 26 points.
X factor: Washington is no longer in the business of serving youth. Drew Gooden and Al Harrington combined to score 20 points. Let that sink in. Five members of Washington's bench who were not on the court for the Wizards in early February played more than 10 minutes against the Jazz.
LVP: Utah's rookie point guard Trey Burke took 14 shots to reach 14 points and had as many turnovers (three) as assists. But chin up, Trey. The glowering, critical eye of the nation can don mascara and bat its eyes at you pretty fast. Just ask John Wall.
MVP: Marcus Thornton and Joe Johnson provided the offensive spark for Brooklyn, combining for 41 points and eight 3-pointers. Thornton scored his 20 points off the bench, shooting 8-for-13 from the field. Johnson added 21 on 8-13 shooting.
LVP: Mike Conley played a horrid ball game, being replaced at one point by rookie Nick Calathes during a big Nets run. Conley was 0-for-8 from the field and had six turnovers in 21 minutes of action.
That was ... what happens when the Nets make their 3s: Brooklyn struggled from downtown early on in the season and is currently middle of the pack in long-range percentage. On Wednesday, the Nets were 15-for-26 from deep, a huge boost in scoring 103 points against an elite defense.
MVP: Joakim Noah continues to be the offensive heart and defensive soul of the Bulls. He also continues to rack up the all-around stats. Noah's 10 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists gave him his third triple-double over the past month.
X factor: Sixth Man of the Year candidate Taj Gibson gave the Bulls a much needed dose of offense in the second quarter. His 14 points in the period propelled Chicago from a 10-point deficit to a five-point halftime lead.
That was... a reality check: After drumming the Knicks' frontline for 19 points and 26 rebounds in his last game, Andre Drummond found the Bulls less than cooperative. The Detroit behemoth finished with 15 points and seven rebounds as the Bulls fiercely contested the painted area all night.
MVP: David Lee. The power forward dismantled Boston's undersized frontline with ease, posting a seemingly effortless double-double. Lee's 18 points and 10 rebounds in a mere 25 minutes of action set the tone for the Warriors in an easy rout of Boston.
LVP: Rajon Rondo. Plenty of options to choose from on the Celtics' roster, but Boston's captain hurt his team early and often, piling up five of his season-high seven turnovers coming in the first half, helping the Warriors to build a 21-point halftime lead.
X factor: Paint domination. On a rare night when the 3-pointer wasn't falling for the Warriors, Golden State compensated by seizing control down low. The visitors nearly doubled the Celtics' point total in the paint by a 58-32 margin and also grabbed 15 offensive rebounds on the night.
MVP:: J.J. Hickson did a little of everything, slamming his way to 16 points -- 12 in the fourth quarter -- while rejecting five Mavericks shots at the rim. He stuffed Sam Dalembert on a dunk attempt and helped Denver snap its six-game losing streak.
X factor: Free throws. The Nuggets attacked from the opening tip, and racked up 36 free throw attempts to just nine for the Mavericks. Denver's 21-point edge from the stripe helped offset Dallas' 53 percent field goal shooting.
LVP:: Monta Ellis. Ellis was torched on the perimeter time and time again on defense and couldn't get anything going offensively until late. Yes, he finished with 16 points, but 12 of them came after the margin reached 20 points in the fourth quarter.
3. Wednesday's Best
Al Jefferson, Bobcats: The main reason the 'Cats could make the playoffs for the second time in franchise history lit up the East leaders. Jefferson had 34 points in a 109-87 rout of Indiana. Charlotte was finishing a brutal four-game stretch, becoming the first team since the 2009-10 Knicks to play the NBA's top four teams in consecutive games. They previously lost to San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Miami on the road.
4. Wednesday's Worst
Mike Conley, Grizzlies: A rare bad game by a good player. Conley went 0-for-8 from the field with six turnovers in a 103-94 loss in Brooklyn. Conley is a 44.8 percent shooter with a 17.6 scoring average.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"I think competitive character people don't want to be manipulated constantly to do what one individual wants them to do. It's a great feeling when players get together and do things as a group. Whatever can be done to empower those people."
-- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, as quoated in the San Antonio Express-News.
8. Team Jefferson
9. Stat Check
Joakim Noah posted his second triple-double in four days, with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the Chicago Bulls' 105-94 win at the Detroit Pistons. There have been only five triple-doubles by centers since Jan. 1, 2013. Noah has four of them and Kevin Love had the other one.
10. TrueHoop TV
Around the Association
MVP: Al Jefferson sank 16-of-25 attempts from the field and had eight rebounds en route to 34 points, thoroughly outplaying Roy Hibbert (four points, four rebounds).
LVP: Paul George missed all nine of his shots and had five turnovers. Not really the kind of numbers that make one think the Heat will be unseated.
X factor: Chris Douglas-Roberts sank all three of his 3-point attempts, leading the Cats to a .500 day from beyond the arc (9-of-18). Not bad for a guy who started December in the D-League.
MVP: To go along with 14 points, Nicolas Batum grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds, all before sitting out the entire fourth quarter. It was Batum's third straight game with at least 15 boards.
X factor: While some expected Portland to attack Atlanta's injury-depleted and undersized front line, the Blazers lit them up from behind the arc, making 13-of-29 (45 percent) from downtown. The Hawks, meanwhile, hit just 4-of-27 (15 percent).
That was ... the end of a streak: After 127 consecutive games with a made 3-pointer, Kyle Korver missed all of his five attempts.
Tri-MVPs: Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings boast the NBA's only trio of scorers average 20-plus points, and each surpassed that mark in this game. But each player also tossed out five or more assists, resulting in a balanced attack for which the Bucks had no answer.
X factor: The Kings' starting frontline grabbed 30 rebounds. The Bucks' starting front court managed just 10. In particular, starting center Zaza Pachulia got outrebounded by Cousins by a 10-1 margin, one of many ways Cousins bested him.
That was ... an awkward moment: With 4:19 remaining in the game, Thomas was called a technical foul by official Joey Crawford for pawing at a ball held by Khris Middleton after the whistle. Middleton also got one for his reaction. But Thomas persisted, and referee Scott Wall ejected him.