On Tuesday, the Wild and Timberwolves received dramatically different types of information about key players missing games. They also responded in dramatically different ways during games Tuesday.
Both events were meaningful. Both games were unwatchable. Both teams got what they deserved.
Let’s start with the Wild, which announced Tuesday that forward Zach Parise underwent microdiscectomy surgery that morning and is expected to miss the next 8-10 weeks.
Minnesota had played without Parise for the first six games this season already, while also losing other key forwards to injuries along the way. Tuesday’s announcement, though, added relative permanence to the Wild’s position. No Parise, probably until at least Christmas. No Charlie Coyle for several more weeks. No Nino Niederreiter for at least the next handful of games.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau had already been grousing about the Wild playing too loose early in the season. Minnesota scored at least four goals in four of its first six games. The problem was the Wild also gave up at least four goals in four of those games as well. The result was a 2-2-2 record going into Tuesday night’s game against Vancouver at Xcel Energy Center.
Whether it was at Boudreau’s urging or Wild players sensed that a defensive struggle might be their best bet to win given the Parise news and the rest of their firepower woes, the game unfolded in yawn-inducing fashion. There was little action either way, and even fewer scoring chances. Vancouver, playing the finale of a five-game road trip spanning just eight days, seemed more than happy to oblige.
The Canucks broke a scoreless tie midway through the third period. In most games, a one-goal lead doesn’t feel insurmountable. On Tuesday, you might as well have turned the TV off. The final, predictably, was 1-0.
Boudreau lamented afterward that, “We played not to win. We played to tie the game. You can’t play that way.’’
If his lads were too loose early in the year, they were too tight for his liking on Tuesday.
The paying customers, once they were nudged awake by the final horn, surely left Xcel Energy Center feeling like their money wasn’t exactly well spent. Had they instead crossed the river to check out the remodeled Target Center, where the Timberwolves were hosting the Pacers, they would have felt the same way.
In that game, it was learned shortly before tipoff that an illness had knocked Jimmy Butler out of commission. Shabazz Muhammad started in his place.
Butler’s absence will be far shorter than Parise’s (though Jimmy will miss Wednesday’s game at Detroit, too). But just as was the case with the Wild, Butler being out seemed to dictate much of what happened to the Wolves.
Butler was brought in as a two-way player and kindred spirit to head coach Tom Thibodeau — someone who could carry the message, with both actions and words, that it takes a professional, two-way effort to win consistently in the NBA.
In Butler’s absence, this madness ensued: The Wolves lost 130-107 to the mediocre (at best) Pacers, allowing Indiana to make two out of every three field goals attempted (and more than three of every four in the second half). If there wasn’t a consensus reached among players that defense was optional on a night when Butler was gone, it was at least implied.
When the cat is away, apparently the KAT — and the rest of his teammates — will play no defense.
“I didn’t like our body language when it wasn’t going our way,” Thibodeau said, while also lamenting noting that it is possible to win a lot of different ways — something the Butler-less Wolves have yet to consistently learn.
If the Wild fans were sleepy Tuesday, Wolves fans were awake and angry — booing the home team on multiple occasions.
One team responded to adversity by playing too tight, and the other responded by playing too loose. Neither looked fully engaged. It’s hard to say which is worse, but both teams deserved their fates Tuesday.