February 10, 2018, 1:07 am
When the Wolves traded for Jimmy Butler there was a contingent of Wolves’ fans who were sad to see LaVine go, wishing either for Wiggins to depart in his stead or for the Wolves to keep Zach over Butler all together.
Tonight certainly gave that contingent some conflicting feelings.
There was no way Wiggins was going to be involved, the Bulls weren’t about to pay Wiggins the max and there was no other way to get the trade done. LaVine even admitted in the past that the trio of KAT, Wiggins and himself knew one of them would likely have to move on given the tough business of the NBA.
There were no hard feelings spent, just some classic tough love on the court. LaVine went out and torched his former team for 35 points, including the final 11 for Chicago, and came out on top 114-113.
After recovering from an ACL tear LaVine was, as expected, rusty upon his return and not quite at the level of athleticism as the two-time Slam Dunk Champion was pre-injury. He had been showing signs of waking up heading into this game, but proceeded to blow the training wheels off all-together against his former comrades.
It was a pleasure to watch Zach dice up the swiss-cheese defense the Wolves employed out there, throwing down a few dunks in the process and continuously beating Butler and Wiggins off the dribble.
As mentioned above he closed out the game as well with the final 11 points. His final three were the most important. With 18.4 seconds left and down two points, LaVine went up for a 3-pointer and was hit on the elbow by Jimmy Butler and was awarded three free-throws. The replay didn’t show much contact, but Butler seemed to agree with the call.
He sank all three to give the Bulls a one-point lead, which they would not relinquish, despite a couple of looks from the Wolves.
It ends up as another tough road loss for the Wolves. They’re now 1-10 on the road since January 1 with losses in Brooklyn, Atlanta, Orlando and now Chicago, the bottom four teams in the East.
It’s tough to win on the road, but the Wolves look like a completely different team most nights away from Target Center. They are still scoring at a high level but the defense has been absolutely atrocious. Their defensive rating is 115.3 on the road in 2018, worst in the NBA since then, compared to 101.2 at home, which is sixth best.
The Wolves have 11 more road games left on the season. They absolutely have to turn things around and take care of business, or else they aren’t going anywhere in the playoffs. Even a marginal improvement would help, though it shouldn’t be difficult to beat 1-10 over the next 11.
Zach LaVine’s night overshadowed Jimmy Butler’s return to Chicago. Butler put up 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, four steals and three 3-pointers on the night on 11-of-26 shooting and 13-of-15 from the line. It was a monster line, but he could have been better.
The Wolves’ offense stagnated after blowing up in the second quarter. The Wolves built a 17-point lead and were looking to coast the rest of the way, but that mentality seemed to settle in too soon and suddenly the Wolves couldn’t get anything going on offense.
Part of that was on Butler not moving the ball when he could have and forcing up some shots, though it’s unfair to pin it all on him. He was able to draw timely free throws, as usual, and get the Wolves into the bonus early in the fourth quarter.
Butler also struggled defending LaVine, but there was also little secondary help for Butler, giving Zach a free lane to take advantage of.
Taj Gibson’s return was quiet, scoring 10 points with five rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block.
Also inexplicably quiet tonight was Karl-Anthony Towns, who scored only 14 points on eight shot attempts. Towns tied Jeff Teague for the fewest shot attempts among the starters, and through three quarters Towns had the fewest attempts on the team among the nine who played.
Towns, who had made 10 3-pointers in a row coming into tonight, took only one attempt from deep and it came on the final play of the game. It was actually a nice play design and he had a good look, but it didn’t fall to win the game.
Thibs rarely runs late game plays for KAT so it was a nice change of pace, but Towns has to somehow get more involved throughout the early portions of the game. His shots continue to decrease as the season goes on.
There was a bit of comedy on the sidelines in the fourth between Town, Thibs and a referee. KAT was bullied out of a defensive rebound by Bobby Portis and then scored on. Thibs voiced his displeasure at Towns and clapped his hands, which drew a technical foul from the referee.
The entire Wolves’ bench erupted, and Towns was pleading that Thibs was yelling at him, which he clearly was. Unfortunately it wasn’t so funny in the end as the difference in the game was the botched call.
They really gave Thibs a tech for cursing out KAT 😂 pic.twitter.com/wvOI9uLWCw
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 10, 2018
Despite another tough loss, the Wolves have at least been treated to some entertaining games of late between the Cavs loss and LaVine’s dominance. They return home on Sunday and they’ll face off with the Sacramento Kings where they hope to just come away with a boring victory.