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The Wolves and Nuggets are on ESPN tonight (7 p.m. local time), and as such the folks at the Worldwide Leader have put together a rather amusing promo involving Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio that they were nice enough to share with us in advance of its TV premiere.
The premise is pretty fantastic: Love is driving along in an RV with NBA commentator Mike Breen when he starts seeing a series of billboards featuring his likeness in a seductive pose along with a phone number to call -- 1-855-NEED-LOVE (yeah, that's one too many numbers, but whatever).
You can imagine what happens next.
He fixes the cable?
No, just watch:
It's early in both the NHL and NBA seasons, but we have probably seen enough from both the Wild and Wolves to pose this question: which team is more likely to make the playoffs based on what we know about their various strengths and weaknesses?
A couple weeks ago, we gave the opinion that the Wolves were the least dysfunctional (or most functional if you are an optimist) of the four men's major pro sports teams in town. We stand by that, primarily because we think they have the highest upside. But which team has the best chance of simply making the playoffs this year? Well, that's a different question. Here's how we break it down:
WOLVES (5-3 record)
What we like so far: Kevin Love is playing at a very high level and is the clear leader of the team ... the offseason acquisitions of Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer have clearly paid off, as both have been exactly as advertised -- Martin as an efficient scorer and great shooter, Brewer as a hustler, defender and fast break whiz ... the defense has been surprisingly efficient, ranking No. 5 in the NBA in that defensive efficiency category ... the team is full of good free throw shooters, a huge plus for cheap points and when closing out games.
What is working against them: The bench production has been bad at best most nights. When you think of benches, you want someone providing decent defense and instant offense. The Wolves' bench is shooting 8 of 45 from three-point range. Ouch. ... The Western Conference is brutally tough, with at least 12 teams capable of being in the playoff mix.
Great unknowns: Will they be able to keep up the defensive intensity? Will they be able to keep a couple smaller injuries from spiraling into another lost season? Will they figure out a good role for Derrick Williams or be able to trade him for a more useful part?
WILD (10-4-4 record)
What we like so far: The squad generally creates more chances than its opponent, which is always a good sign ... Josh Harding has been a tremendous story, but more than that he has been a fantastic goalie ... the offense, after a sluggish start, finally started to cash in on some of its chances.
What is working against them: Much like the Wolves, they are mired in a tough conference/division and will have to fight for every point. ... And for all of their improvements, we still don't feel as though they have one bona fide sniper, at least not one in his prime.
Great unknowns: Can Harding keep up his pace, with help from Backstrom? Will there be too many stretches where they don't bury chances?
We still like the Wolves as the answer, but by a hair. We think both teams make it, but we still say the Wolves are built better for actually winning a series.
Your thoughts, please, in the comments.
So what usually happens is we notice an early trend, write about it, and then the very next game the trend gets dumped on. So if Kevin Love is awful tonight against the Clippers in the second night of a back-to-back, you can blame us.
That said: Love has to be considered an early dark-horse MVP candidate.
It's only seven games, but the numbers and the way he is conducting business are eye-popping. Per the Wolves, he is the first player in NBA history to have 160 points, 80 rebounds and 30 assists over his first six games of a season. He followed that up with a ho-hum 25-point, 13-rebound effort last night as the Wolves won for the first time against the Lakers since 2007 -- and didn't just win, flat-out dominated thanks in large part to Love.
His outlet passes have been spot-on, and he finally has some running mates (Corey Brewer and Kevin Martin) to catch the passes and cash them in for assists. As a result, he's averaging almost 5 per game. He's had a double-double in every game, and his three-point shooting has made a huge difference.
In five Wolves victories, Love is 15 for 36 (41.7 percent) from beyond the arc. In two losses, he's 1 for 11. Basically, he is back to playing at the same level he was two years ago, if not higher because his passing acumen seems to have improved.
Martin and Brewer should get plenty of the credit for this team's strong start as well, but Love is driving the ship. And remember, if he puts up a clunker tonight, it's our fault.
And, well, that's partially true. Last season the Wolves attempted 1,475 three-pointers in 82 games, an average of 18 attempts per game.
This year, they've hoisted up 116 in five games, an average of about 23.
(Sadly, they are making just 30.2 percent of them this season -- almost the same as last year, when they were last in the NBA at 30.5 percent. That should change, but still).
What they seem to be doing less of, it would seem, is mid-range jumpers -- somewhere between 15 feet and the three-point line. That's a good thing, since those are often the worst shots, scoring percentage-wise, in basketball.
Per Deadspin's tracking, the Wolves have attempted 6.9 percent fewer shots overall -- including three-pointers -- from 15 feet and beyond this season versus last season. So even though they are hoisting five more threes per game, more of their shots this season are from 15-feet and in than they were last year, at least so far.
What does this mean? Well, they're getting a good combination of basket cut layups and close-range low-post shots, one would imagine. And when they do create outside shots, they are from three-point range instead of two-point range. Unfortunately for them, everyone not named Kevin Martin (who is a scorching 14 for 25 form long distance) is a combined 21 for 91. That should change. When it does, the offensive efficiency will tick even further upward as long as they keep getting more close-range twos.
We waited as long as we could (the second post of the week) to deliver some smoke detector battery news: your undefeated Timberwolves, after winning games at home against Orlando and OKC and Sunday on the road at New York, are ranked in the top five in two separate early power rankings.
Who cares, it's early? Yeah, probably. But still: they are ranked, for now, above the Miami Heat.
Says Yahoo's Marc Spears: The undefeated Wolves showed strong signs that they're capable of making the postseason for the first time since 2004.
Says ESPN's Marc Stein: The Wolves showed us glimpses of the potential we've been talking about for ages by clamping down on Durant and Melo.
A big test awaits tonight, with the Wolves playing the second of a back-to-back in Cleveland. Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic all topped 40 minutes vs. the Knicks, while Kevin Martin played 36. It will be interesting to see what kind of energy they bring against the improving Cavs.
For now: Smoke detector batteries for all!