That condenses both the agony and the ecstasy -- with last night being a prime example of both.
These Wolves are an encouraging, maddening group. They seem to know very well how to build a lead. They do not know how to keep that lead. A 40-point first quarter last night against Oklahoma City, which gave Minnesota an 18-point lead, gave way to three quarters of pretty dysfunctional basketball. Why is this happening over and over again? Here are a couple of theories:
*As good as Kevin Love has become, the Wolves seem to go as he goes. Hot start. Lapses. Can't get a bucket when it's needed the most. Again, don't get us wrong: Love has turned into a force. He is quite possibly the best rebounder in the entire NBA, and he can score plenty of different ways. We just can't get too excited until Love -- or someone else -- consistently becomes a fourth-quarter terror.
*Having Darko Milicic out of the lineup exposes just how brutal much of the rest of this team is defensively. It's night and day. Darko was covering so much ground, shading in the deficiencies of other big men and guards by blocking shots, rotating, etc. These late-game meltdowns were happening even when Darko was healthy; we're just saying it's even clearer now how opponents are able to get good shots when they need them down the stretch.
*Depth. While this year's Wolves team has more pieces than recent squads, there are still depth issues. The return of Jonny Flynn and Martell Webster should help a ton. A better second-unit means some of those double-digit leads will stay double-digit leads through the second and third quarters. Webster will stretch the floor in a way Corey Brewer can't. Flynn will (hopefully) get some big men easy buckets by driving and dishing -- a nice complement to Luke Ridnour's mid-range game, and an upgrade over even a functional Sebastian Telfair.
*Confidence: Remember, this is still an exceedingly young team -- including its head coach. They ride emotional waves, meaning they are susceptible to big runs. This is probably the area in which Kurt Rambis needs to develop the most. To take it to the next level, he must find go-to offensive sets that turn momentum. He has to find a defensive answer -- a lineup change, a halfcourt trap, another wrinkle? -- that stops the bleeding faster. Most of all, he needs to instill a belief in this young team that things will get better when things appear to be slipping away. He's already getting great production out of Love, Michael Beasley, Darko and others. Now it's a matter of turning that into victories.
All that said, this is the most entertaining Wolves team in years, and the most reason for optimism in the post-KG era. You can see how the pieces fit together. You can see the parts that are still missing. You can see the development. It's not showing up consistently in the win column. Yet. But we really think it will soon.
As that image asks and answers: Which wolf wins? The one you feed the most.
/We don't know exactly what that means, but it might be the best and most apt Google images find ever.