Four games on the West Coast led to one win for the Wolves in week four. The team that won five of its first seven has now lost six of its next seven. And if you want to know why, you need look no further than Friday's game against Portland.
The Timberwolves, in many ways, dominated that game. They had 17 offensive rebounds, and dominated Portland on the glass, 47-33 overall. They got to the free throw line early and often, ending the game with twenty (!) more made free throws than the Blazers. They stole the ball ten times, and all this meant they ended the game with exactly the same number of shot attempts as Portland.
To reiterate: same number of chances to score, PLUS a 20-point advantage from the line. And yet the Timberwolves lost, 103-95.
Kevin Love told reporters after the game, "They just couldn't miss; those kinds of games happen," but that wasn't the problem. Portland did make 11 threes, including five from Wesley Matthews and four from Damian Lillard, but they also missed 14; it wasn't like the Blazers were in NBA Jam On Fire Mode©.
Instead, the story was the Wolves, who shot an absurd 16.7% behind the arc, making just three of 18 shots. J.J. Barea missed all four he took, and was 1-13 from downtown for the week overall. Luke Ridnour made one of four in that game, but it was the only one he made all week, going 1-11 overall. Malcolm Lee, who as we noted last week is a bricklayer of the first rank, was maybe the team's best-shooting guard in week four, something that you hope never happens to your team.
Look at the team's three-point shooting stats from the rest of the week: Saturday, 5-27 at Golden State. Tuesday, 6-22 at Sacramento. Wednesday, 6-22 again, in Los Angeles.
That's 22.4% for the week. There are old ladies that can make 22.4% of their three-pointers, probably.
Right now, the team's only hope is Love, who made almost 40% of his three-pointers over the past two years. He's started slowly as he's battled his hand injury - just 6-29 so far - but, assuming that comes back, he's currently the team's only outside shooting threat. Alexey Shved scored 17 points and made three three-pointers Wednesday, but in his first NBA season he's probably too inconsistent to be relied upon as a night-in, night-out shooting threat.
Most of the team's hopes rest on the slender shoulders of Ricky Rubio, who was cleared to resume practicing this week. Of course, Rubio is not a great shooter, either - 35.7% from the floor last year - but the hope is that his ability to distribute the ball, to penetrate and pass, will create better shots for this team that so continually struggles to make them.
Health will help. Rubio will help. But ultimately, the Wolves look like they may be stuck without the ability to shoot from the outside this year.
As the Portland game proved, sometimes that by itself is enough to cause a loss. And after a hot start, losses are something the Timberwolves are starting to get used to.
This week: Minnesota again gets a bit of a break, with a home game against Milwaukee on Friday followed by three days off. Tuesday and Wednesday, though, the team travels to Philadelphia and Boston for a pair of games against decent Eastern teams, a good test.
Health update: Rubio is back at practice, and could return as early as next week, with the Friday December 7 game at home against Cleveland looking the most likely candidate... Love wore a protective wrist guard-slash-glove on his injured hand in his return games, but has stopped using it because of the effect it was having on his shot. It didn't help in L.A., where Love was 3-12 from the floor... Andrei Kirilenko missed Wednesday's game with back spasms, and may miss Friday's game as well. He told Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribunee that this sort of thing has generally taken "six to seven days" to heal. Kirilenko hurt his back on Saturday, but played 41 minutes Tuesday before missing Wednesday's game.