Randy Wittman is gone, but the losing continues for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Wittman got canned after the team dropped its fifth straight game a few weeks ago. Vice-president Kevin McHale took over the coaching duties, but nothing has changed – Minny keeps losing, having dropped another eight in a row. The team heads into MSG Friday night looking to break a 13-game losing streak against a Knick team riding its own four-game losing streak. Thanks to the even worse Thunder, however, the Timberwolves aren’t even in last place in their own division.
Those of you unfortunate enough to have followed the Timberwolves over their history know that things can still get worse. In fact, believe it or not, this is only the third longest losing streak in franchise history. They’ve had a pair of 16-gamers dating back to last decade. So in looking ahead, assuming they can’t beat the Knicks tonight, Minnesota will then head home and take on Orlando (good luck there) and Memphis. It is against the Grizzlies where they have their best chance of avoiding what will then probably be a 15-game losing streak. Memphis is actually playing decently lately, but is a woeful 2-11 on the road.
The worst thing here is that, generally speaking, Minny isn’t just losing, it’s getting pounded. The average margin of loss during this stretch is 13.1 points. The T-Wolves, already the NBA’s worst-shooting team, are sinking a mere 41.6 per cent of their shots during the losing streak. Even Big Al Jefferson, the team’s top player, is sinking less than half his shots for the first time in three years. As a team, the Wolves are also among the worst in the association at stopping their opponents (47.54 field goal percentage against), but lately, it’s been even worse at 49.1 per cent during the 13-game losing streak. Already a weak team defensively (21st in the NBA in PPA), Minny has been allowing opponents to put up 104.3 PPG during this skid. Considering the Knicks are an even worse defensive team (in fact, only those legendary defensive dolts, the Warriors, are giving up more), we could see a real last-basket-wins kind of game this evening.
Ryan Gomes got off to a good start this season, but has been slumping badly lately, so it looks unlikely that he’ll build on last year’s career-best performance. He’s epitomized the team’s shooting woes, sinking just 6-for-29 in the past four and being unable to top seven points in any of those games. Gomes’ limited fantasy value is just about done unless you’re in a deeper league.
More bad news for the Wolves: they are among the worst in the NBA at forcing turnovers. However, the Knicks are among the worst teams as far as coughing the ball up. How’s this going to play out?
The fact that Mike Miller (ankle) is out of commission is exposing the T-Wolves even more. He missed Tuesday’s loss and will probably be in a suit again Friday. He’s hurt his right ankle twice this month, severely limiting his value and putting an exclamation point on what is appearing to be a down season for the swingman. He’s taking just 3.5 treys per game compared to two seasons ago when he was hoisting up 7.1 per game. The fact that Miller is sinking only 39 per cent of shots from downtown (his worst percentage since 2003-04) isn’t helping. At this point, there’s not much owners can do but hope he doesn’t come back too early this time and is truly healthy and ready to start making some progress when he does return.
Jefferson, meanwhile, just keeps getting better. No wonder I was so stoked to get him in the second round – the dude is playing like a top 10 player in nine-cat leagues. He’s coming off a 28-point night – his ninth straight game of at least 20 points, a run which has seen him average 25.3 PPG and 10.0 RPG while racking up five double-doubles. Big Al’s offense just keeps getting better, and small wonder with him averaging a career-high 19 shots per game, but what I’d really like to see is more trips to the line. He’s only averaging 4.5 free throw attempts per game, and that’s too few for a superstar. If he can boost that (eight attempts on Tuesday was a nice sign), it will really help – especially since he’s never shot better than he’s done this season from the charity stripe (76.2 per cent).
As for the Knicks, don’t look now, but they are just 5-13 since a surprising 6-3 start. But let’s be clear – these are no longer Isiah’s Knicks, and I mean that as a compliment.
Looking to add some scoring? Quentin Richardson looks like a decent speculative pick right now; just be prepared for serious inconsistency. Case in point: last Friday, he was 1-for-10 from the field for two points. Sunday, against Boston of all teams, he exploded for his best game of the month, nailing five 3-pointers on his way to 29 points with four assists. Q-Rich has actually gotten better as the season has progressed, and despite the fact that his shooting has slipped in December – especially from downtown – he’s getting more and more touches each month (averaging 12.5 FG attempts in December), so he could be on the verge of bigger value once the shooting stabilizes. It’s been a nice comeback season for Q, who’s overall shooting is better after a woeful 2007-08 season.
The Knicks allowed Boston to shoot 65.8 per cent from the field Sunday, the worst New York has done all season. But I guess this wasn’t a shocker. Boston, the league’s best team, is the second-best shooting team overall, and no one allows their opponents to shoot better than the Knicks do. Big Al must be licking his chops, thinking about the huge line he’s going to drop at MSG tonight.
Glimmer of hope for the T-Wolves: they’ve won five of their last seven games in New York. Could this be the night they taste the sweet elixir of victory for the first time since November 28?