On Tap: The Minnesota Timberwolves

 —  March 31, 2005

The Lakers and Timberwolves have more in common than just their falls from Western Conference Finals to missing the playoffs (although Minnesota is not dead yet). These two teams have fallen for the exact same reason — defense. Or lack thereof.

Knickerblogger did a good job a couple of days ago breaking down the Lakers breakdowns in defense, no need to rehash that. But check out what has happened to Minnesota.

Last season their offensive efficiency was 103.1 (points per 100 possessions) and this year have improved that, scoring 104.1. Last season the T-Wolves shot an incredible 51.1% (eFG%) for the season, this year that fell a little to a still good 48.6% (11th best in the league).

But on defense things have come apart. Last season the T-Wolves allowed just 96.6 points per 100 possessions, this year that is 103.1 — that’s 6.5 points worse. Last season teams shot just 44.4% against the T-Wolves, this season it is 47.1%.

The other place Minnesota has seen a drop off in play is from Latrell Sprewell. Last season his PER was 14.7, very close to the league average of 15. This season that has fallen to a bench-worthy 11.84. Meanwhile, Fred Hoiberg — with his PER of 17 and eFG% of 62,2% — has to come off the bench. By the way, Sam Cassell also gets dragged into the “problem and Minnesota’s backcourt” discussions, and his numbers are down — a PER of 22.8 last season has fallen to 19 this year — but he is still playing well.

For all their problems, Minnesota is not out of the playoff chase — they are just 2.5 games back of a fading Memphis team (that the Lakers play Sunday). My guess is Phoenix, if it had the choice between a first-round match up of a team with or without Kevin Garnett, likely would chose the later.

The Lakers have won the two previous meetings with Minnesota this season, although Sam Cassell missed both of those games. Devean George is getting more comfortable in his return to the Lakers, scoring 18 against New York.