Minnesota getting no love from top teams in NBA

Despite Kevin Love's elite scoring, it is a lacklustre defence from the Minnesota Timberwolves that has them on the outside looking in when it comes to the Western Conference play-offs, writes Jonathan Raymond.

Minnesota’s Kevin Love is one of the league’s top scorers but the main issue for the Timberwolves is their lack of defence. Jesse D Garrabrant / AFP
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With just a few weeks left in the 2013/14 NBA season, it is worth looking at the best team that will not be in this year’s play-offs, a team that also is perhaps the league’s strangest squad.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have a top-10 point differential. They have a top-five player in Kevin Love. And yet they are just 10th in the Western Conference, facing an all-but-impossible climb to reach the play-offs.

How did Minnesota get itself in this fix?

The popular narrative has been that much can be explained by their inability to win close games this season. In contests decided by five points or fewer, the Timberwolves are 5-13.

Bad luck in those close games might explain some of it, but even if they had gone a more typical 9-9, they would still be chasing the pack.

This is oversimplifying things a bit, but what generally undid the Timberwolves was their inability to win games from the NBA’s best.

They have gone only 20-25 against the rest of the Western Conference, which helps explain how they are so far back in the play-offs race. While Minnesota are five games under .500 against the West, all of the teams they are staring up at are at least four games over .500 against conference opponents.

Going deeper, the Timberwolves are a remarkably bad 12-26 against teams with a winning record.

Meanwhile, Minnesota have had no trouble beating up weaker opponents. In March, they have wins of 36 points over the Lakers, 24 over the Hawks, 11 over the Bucks, 13 over the Pistons and 11 over the Kings.

Love, an elite scorer, rebounder and passer who can do much on his own, cannot carry an otherwise weaker supporting cast over more complete teams.

Minnesota’s other key players, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio (despite his shooting woes) are pretty good offensive players, but none are particularly great defenders. Love himself is more of an average defender. This dynamic leaves the Wolves exposed against better squads.

Their 103.3 points allowed per game is tied for 24th in a 30-team league. Partly, that is because they play one of the quickest tempos in the game, attempting 87.5 field goals per contest, second in the NBA.

But it is also in part because they allow their opponents to make a league-high 47.1 per cent of their shots.

In the end, the Timberwolves were able to ride Love a long way, but as a team they simply were not good enough against good teams.


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