One of the biggest improvements the Wolves have made since Ryan Saunders was installed as interim coach is defending three-pointers.
When Saunders replaced Tom Thibodeau the Wolves were 29th in the league in opponent’s three-point percentage (37.3 percent). In Saunders’ first 11 games they were fourth (34 percent).
The improvement wasn’t as obvious Saturday, when Denver went 13-for-33 (39.4 percent). Still, Saunders indicated he had made changes from the Thibodeau method.
“We’ve tried a couple concepts,” Saunders said after shoot-around Saturday. “Without getting too deep into it, I’ve talked about taking care of things at the point of attack so that we don’t have to help as much. And then we’ve also emphasized staying home more with three-point shooters.”
If the defense doesn’t have to rotate as much, there is less of a chance the opponent will end up with an open three, particularly in the corner.
Veteran Taj Gibson had another take on why the perimeter defense has improved: The players aren’t as tired.
“Look at the minutes, as far as the way [Saunders] is playing guys,” Gibson said. “We’re really shorthanded, but he’s out there playing a lot of different lineups. So he’s giving guys opportunities to go out and play hard. If you need a blow, if something isn’t working, we try to rectify it and work it out.”
Fighting the pain
Derrick Rose returned to action Saturday after missing three games with ligament soreness in his right ankle. He played 20 minutes, scoring eight points and getting five assists.
He pledged to ease into his return. One way or another Rose has to navigate the soreness in his ankle; he has missed 13 games this season. Even when he is playing, especially lately, the soreness has affected his game, Rose said.
“We’ve had a number of conversations, he and I,” Saunders said. “Just in terms of, one, making sure he’s comfortable, and also making sure you do right by him, so he has sustained success moving forward. Where we don’t have to miss him for longer periods.”
Especially recently, Rose said the pain has been an issue even when he was playing. He pointed to his three-point shooting as an example. Still shooting over 40 percent for the season, Rose made just four of 21 threes in six January.
The reason? The pain.
“I was thinking more about my landing than about my shot,” he said. “All my shots were flat. Of course I had to take ’em. But that’s one of the reasons I had to take a break, when I was out there and thinking too much instead of reacting. That’s when I know something is wrong.”
• Wednesday’s victory over Memphis was the first time the Wolves had won while scoring fewer than 100 points. The Wolves are now 1-5 in such games. On the other hand, the Wolves are 10-0 when holding opponents at or under 100 points.
• Seven of Saunders’ first 11 games have been decided by four or fewer points. The Wolves are 4-3 in those games. “I’d rather have these now and fight through them and learn in situations.,” Saunders said. “I’m glad they’ve gone this way.”