We were edging toward a clean sweep of a weekend. The Gophers men's hockey team swept St. Cloud State, widening its lead in the WCHA in the process while UMD surprisingly stumbled against Michigan Tech. The Gophers men's basketball team upended Illinois with some clutch play in the final seconds of regulation and overtime. The Gophers women's hoops team earned a huge upset of Ohio State. The Gophers women's hockey team added a sweep for good measure. The Wolves defeated San Antonio on Friday. The Wild didn't play. The Twins didn't play, except to sign autographs. The Vikings didn't play, except for the Pro Bowl (where everyone loses, particularly the fans, but we'll let it slide).
So we headed into Sunday night -- Wolves vs. Lakers -- dangerously close to a weekend of massive success and no failure. And ... once again, the Wolves cowered at the sight of the exalted .500 mark. It was a reminder that many hurdles remain for this young and exciting team. Among them:
*Learning to deal with a little success. In their three most recent losses -- two of which came in games where they could have climbed back to .500 -- the Wolves have allowed at least 106 points. That could be an indicator that wins have led to relaxing instead of a maintained intensity. Sure, Kobe Bryant was making shots out of his mind last night. But he was also wide open a few times. Pau Gasol had clean looks from 16 feet with nobody running out to put a hand in his face. In short, this team will have to learn that it takes even more effort to keep winning than to start winning.
*Working the suddenly healthy players back into the rotation. The Wolves looked disjointed last night, and part of the reason was the fresh faces out there. Martell Webster and Michael Beasley took 15 shots apiece last night, combining to go 11 of 30. Beasley was reasonably efficient (7 of 15, and 12 rebounds to go with it in 30 minutes). Webster looks like a guy trying to shoot his way back into a rhythm. Brad Miller is playing. J.J. Barea will be back at some point. The minutes don't figure to come away from Kevin Love or Ricky Rubio. It will be interesting to see, then, how the rotation shakes out and how the players who didn't experience winning with fourth-quarter defense integrate back into the mix.
*As Souhan pointed out, the Wolves will continue to have matchup problems until they have a bona fide starting 2 guard. Teams with athletic back-courts and height advantages on the wings have the potential to eat them up (Thunder, Bulls, Lakers).
*Ricky Rubio's all-around brilliance is captivating, but his shooting woes might catch up to Minnesota at some point. In five of Rubio's past seven games, here are his field goal lines: 1-for-8; 1-for-11; 2-for-10; 4-for-16; 2-for-13. The Wolves happen to be 3-2 in those games -- in part in spite of Rubio's shooting, in part because of all his other contributions. He's shooting 35.4 percent from the field this season.
Again, these are growing pains. It is nice to be talking about specific problems instead of an organizational mess. But it also would have been nice if the Wolves could have capped a Minnesota weekend sports sweep.