It has become increasingly clear that the most-interesting place to watch bigtime basketball in the Twin Cities this winter is going to be Williams Arena and not Target Center.
That was not the feeling seven weeks ago, when the Timberwolves opened the NBA schedule with a 120-115 victory over Orlanodo on Oct. 30, and three nights later, Rich Pitino debuted his Gophers with a 79-57 exhibition victory over Cardinal Stritch, an NAIA school from Milwaukee.
This was going to be the winter when the Wolves finally had the health and the depth of talent to figure it out with 67-year-old coach Rick Adelman in his fourth Minnesota season, and a winter the Gophers would spend adjusting to the fast-paced system of 31-year-old coach Rich Pitino, in his second season as a Division I coach.
Those of us making that assumption were wrong. One-third of the way through the schedule, these Timberwolves are 13-14, and in several ways they have been more disgusting than their inept predecessors.
Playoffs? Unless owner Glen Taylor can get his team an immediate transfer to the Eastern Conference at the next Board of Governors meeting, this outfit that won't play defense, can't shoot and has little depth is going to make it a full decade without a playoff game.
The Timberwolves' current playoff absence of nine years is the longest active streak in the NBA, by two seasons over Sacramento and four seasons over Washington and Toronto. By missing tagain this season, the Timberwolves will tie Dallas (1991-2000) for the third longest playoff drought all-time, trailing only the Clippers' 15 years (1977-91) and the Warriors' 12 years (1995-2006).
So far, the local sporting public has been much more perceptive about what could be expected from the 2013-14 Timberwolves than were the local media and national analysts. The customers apparently bought few tickets in advance, since they have been staying away in droves for weeknight games at Target Center.
Who could blame them?
The Wolves do have moments when they are cooking on the break and are entertaining, and Kevin Love is putting up huge numbers, but they already have a half-dozen no-show losses in the first 27 games on the schedule.
There was another on Friday night in Staples Center against the Kobe-less Lakers. Facing a lineup that included Wes Johnson at small forward, thwe Wolves allowed the Lakers at the outset to streak past them like coach Mike D'Antoni's Suns of yore. L.A. had 35 points in a first-quarter layup fest, lost the lead, and then pulled away down the stretch.
"No energy,'' Adelman said after the game. "We have to be better than that. We can't come out and start a game like that. They outworked us all night long.''
Sadly for Adelman, coming out like that wasn't the most-disgusting part of the evening for his team. That came when they allowed the Lakers to get the victory with a 14-2 stretch run.
When all is said and done, our bums can't shoot. The Wolves were 33 for 95 from the field -- 34.7 percent. Love had his reliable double-double, 25 points and 13 rebounds, but only five of those points came in the second half. That's become something of a trend for him ... a dropoff in production as defenses tighten up at game-deciding time.
Love's the least of this team's issues, of course.
Ricky Rubio is a clank. Corey Brewer is a clank. Alexey Shved is a clank. Luc Mbah a Moute (as advertised) has no offensive game. Brandt Snedeker has a better chance to make a 20-foot putt than Nikola Pekovic does a layup. J.J. Barea tries to play tall-guard basketball at 5-foot-9.
Chase Budinger is going to correct this listing ship, right? You betcha.
At almost the same time another putrid performance from the Woofies was getting started, the Gophers were finishing a 92-79 victory over Nebraska-Omaha at the Barn. OK, this is only Omaha's third season in Division I basketball, and the Mavericks played into the Gophers' hands by turning the game into a track meet.
Still, Omaha was the one team among the last four before the Big Ten starts with the talent to make things interesting. At the end, the Gophers proved more capable of sustaining the up-and-down game for a full 40 minutes ... improving to 10-2 overall and 8-0 in the Barn.
Deandre Mathieu, the JUCO point guard with jets in his sneakers, loves to play without a speed limit and finished with 27 points. It's unlikely that Mathieu will see this much open court in any of the 18 Big Ten games that are ahead, but the little man is fun to watch when all that space is available.
There's one walkover remaining next week, vs. the Corpus Christi branch of Texas A&M, and then the Big Ten -- and the crowds -- return to the Barn on Jan. 2 vs. Michigan. Right now, the frustration level with the Gophers sits at zero and the chance to get to the NCAA tournament is probably 50-50.
Across town with the occupants of Target Center, the frustration rating is a solid 80 percent. And the chance for the playoffs? When you can't defend, can't shoot and can't be relied on to play hard, the chance can't be more than 1 in 4..
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