Once on the cusp of being on pace to earn their first playoff berth in eight years, the Minnesota Timberwolves have lost three straight entering Monday's action, falling two games out of the West's final postseason seed. They've also lost rookie point guard Ricky Rubio along the way to a torn knee ligament, and though Rubio's passing and derring-do made up most of the youngster's headlines in his first season, his impressive defense and ability to hound the perimeter will be missed more than his 35 percent shooting.
It was that dodgy defense and decision-making that frustrated Wolves power forward Kevin Love to the edge of battiness in a loss on Sunday to the rebuilding Sacramento Kings. After a series of bad decisions on both sides of the ball from inconsistent guards J.J. Barea and Wayne Ellington, Love had to be restrained from going after Barea in the Minnesota huddle during the next timeout. Watch:
Of course, these things happen to several NBA teams a year, whether it's in full public view or during practice, and the Wolves gave the typical lip service to the incident following the game about the team's competitive spirit and the frustration of another impending loss. But the anger was real when the confrontation took place, and the worries are just as profound as Minnesota attempts to make one last postseason run with 22 games left in the team's season.
The issue is consistency. Barea is not a selfish player, he looks to pass quite a bit (30 percent of his possessions end up in assists for J.J.), and means well at his best. He also comes and goes with his defense, his shot selection, and leadership abilities. Barea's minor-league upbringing and championship pedigree with the 2011 Dallas Mavericks should make him the perfect settling influence as the Wolves attempt to recover from the loss of someone who is only 21 years old. Instead, he's been all over the place in his first season with Minnesota. And on a team with playoff aspirations but plenty of holes (especially on the wing, where Ellington and Wesley Johnson don't even look like NBA-level contributors at this point), the play needs to be nearly perfect as Minnesota chases down Houston in the West.
Steve McPherson has the go-to breakdown of Love's frustration over at Feelings Aren't Numbers, and it's important to take the famous All-Star's side in this one. Love is the guy who was needlessly settled on as a bit player under the clueless regime of Kurt Rambis during his first two NBA seasons, he's had to put up with the mercurial stylings of GM David Kahn for the last few years, and he still might be the least-appreciated star in the NBA despite scoring 25.6 points per game and pulling in 13.7 rebounds; mainly because his style of production won't make many top 10 lists when the NBA compiles its nightly highlights.
Four years removed from his run at UCLA, Love is on the cusp of finally making the postseason again, and it has to be gutting for him to see his Wolves lose in Sacramento to fall two games back, with even the aging Phoenix Suns rocketing past Minnesota in the standings. Of course, it's just as gutting for Ellington and Barea, all full of heat checks from the perimeter, which is why you get confrontations like these.
Out of your system, fellas? Probably. Until the next blown screen and roll assignment, at least.