The first question when looking at the Wolves’ recent rash of injuries was: How will the Wolves make up for the points lost while center Nikola Pekovic and guard Kevin Martin recover from injuries?
But a better question is this: Can you believe how the loss of those two has hurt the team’s defense?
Pekovic is a physical presence, though he’s not good at protecting the rim on defense. And Martin always has been known more for his offense. Still, the loss of those two has led to a drop in offensive efficiency and, as a result, put more strain on an already beleaguered defense.
“Well, defense has been a concern of ours from Day 1,” said Terry Porter, who was once again filling in for Rick Adelman, who was away from the team for a second consecutive day for personal reasons. Adelman is expected to be back for Wednesday’s game with Denver at Target Center. “When you lose 40 points [from your lineup], and you’re shorthanded, it becomes a tough task.”
During their season-high four-game losing streak, the Wolves have missed more shots and have at times turned the ball over in bunches, both stressing Minnesota’s transition defense.
During that streak Wolves opponents have averaged 107 points per game, shot 48.2 percent, 40.2 percent from three-point range and scored 17.5 points on the break. Even for a Wolves team that has been defensively challenged this season, those are steps backward.
“It’s tough, like [Monday] night for me getting up and down was tough because I was dragging this thing,” Kevin Love said, indicating his sore leg. “It’s our transition defense, our whole team, myself included. But the crazy thing to me, we’ve been in striking distance or ahead going into the fourth quarter and we just need to find a way to accumulate points and get stops.”
The Wolves did neither Monday in Houston’s 25-11 fourth quarter, one that started with an 11-0 Rockets run fueled by the Wolves going 0-for-9 and turning the ball over four times.
For the game, Houston hit 11 three-pointers and scored 52 points in the paint, 26 on the fast break.
The Wolves will be without Pekovic (bursitis in right ankle) and Martin (broken left thumb) once again Wednesday against Denver, the team’s last game before a weeklong All-Star Game break. That doesn’t give the team long to figure out how to improve the defense.
“We’ve been struggling,” Corey Brewer said. “But it’s tough when you don’t have your core [players], when you’re without a bunch of your guys. … It’s a struggle. Guys are trying to fit in, do different things. But for us it’s just about getting better.”
A loss Wednesday would give the Wolves their first five-game losing streak since a six-game streak in late February and early March of last season. A victory would give the team a better mind-set heading into the break. The Wolves are expected to get healthier down the stretch. Pekovic is expected to be available shortly after the break.
“You always want to go into an All-Star break feeling confident,” Porter said. “They definitely need [the break] to regroup, give their bodies a chance to rest and come back fresh.’’