Welcome to Thursday edition of The Cooler, where it’s good to trust your own eyes. Let’s get to it:
*I had one of the best seats in the house last night at Target Center — if you saw a dude in the second row, pretty close to midcourt, wearing a weird squirrel shirt … that was me — to witness the Wolves’ latest victory, a 121-104 win over Charlotte.
The Wolves have been playing with fire in their last two games, falling behind again by a big amount (15 this time in the first half after being down 19 against Houston on Monday). This is what good teams do when they get a little bored or want to test themselves, but I’m not quite sure Minnesota is good enough to do that yet.
That said, a little more than two quarters of good basketball has been more than enough to overwhelm their last two opponents, and it brings me to some interesting early conclusions about the post-Jimmy Butler Wolves.
1 For as much as Minnesota won last year, going 47-35 (including 37-22 when Butler was in the lineup), it often felt like a grind. Statistically, the Wolves were No. 4 in offensive efficiency but that efficiency came in ways that weren’t aesthetically pleasing: tough two-pointers, free throws and a lot of low-turnover isolation plays.
Post-Butler, the Wolves are sharing the ball more and playing with a lot more rhythm on both ends of the court. The result is basketball that is more pleasing to watch in addition — so far — to being effective. When the post-Butler Wolves get on a roll, they are a sight to behold.
2 The Wolves won a little more than half their games last season by 10 points or more (25 of their 47 wins). That’s a decent number, but they also played 45 games decided by nine points or less — going 22-23 in those games.
Since Robert Covington and Dario Saric arrived, six of the Wolves’ eight wins (75 percent) have come via double-digits — including the last two, even though the Wolves trailed by double-digits at one point on both games. That’s a small sample size that came during one of the most favorable stretches of games schedule-wise that the Wolves will have this year (10 of 12 at home, plus two easy road opponents), but it’s still interesting. The Wolves beat Portland, San Antonio, Houston and Charlotte — four potential playoff teams — by an average of 21 points during that stretch.
The next test is a four-game road trip out West. The last time the Wolves headed that way, they were 4-4 and trying to figure out what to do about Butler. They went 0-5 on the trip and traded Butler the day after the fifth loss. If they can go even 2-2 against Portland, Golden State, Sacramento and Phoenix, all of this will start to feel even more real.
*The 76ers lost to the Raptors on Wednesday, by the way, meaning both Philadelphia and the Wolves are 9-3 since the trade (including 8-3 in both cases since the new players joined their teams).
*Bleacher Report has an interesting piece on why LeBron James might have a harder time recruiting top players to the Lakers than you might think.