Motivation can push human to do amazing things. Can push us into a new position in our job, it can help us lose that belly fat for summer, and it can help one get through a bit of slump in any medium; writing, reading, you name it, and positive motivation can push one through. The Luol Deng trade is pushing the Chicago Bulls. In shipping Deng to Cleveland, the perceived notion was that Chicago was tanking, retooling the roster for another Rose return by packing this season in. The notion that Chicago was tanking this season turned out to be positive motivation for this team, as Chicago has won seven of their last ten games, and stand pat in the middle of the Eastern Conference.
Next up on the Bulls schedule? They’ll go up against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves come into the game at 21-22, clumped in the back half of the Western Conference in the 10th spot, but just two games out of the final playoff spot in the West.
The Timberwolves are an intriguing team. Before a close win over Golden State last Friday, the Timberwolves were 0-11 in games decided by four points or less, so while they played a ton of close games and lost, they played teams close nonetheless. Their point differential is +4.9, which is impressive, and better than 8th place Dallas, 7th place Phoenix, and 6th place Golden State, which seems pretty weird. To top all of the interesting numbers surrounding the T-Wolves, they also rank 11th in the league in defensive efficiency, and according to NBA.com’s Media Site, the Wolves rank dead last in the league in opponent field-goal percentage on shots less than five feet at 64.9% for the season.
Pretty interesting, eh? Minnesota has some positives, like seventh in rebounding percentage, ninth in offensive efficiency, a do-it-all forward in Kevin Love, a bruising center in Nikola Pekovic and an interesting defensive backcourt of Corey Brewer and Ricky Rubio. What’s kill them halfway through the season is the variance in close games, the lack of a true rim protector, and the lack of bench production. Currently, Minnesota ranks 28th in the league in bench production, and while Chase Budinger’s return helps, the lack of non-starter production has hurt Minnesota in small doses. With very little room for error, the Timberwolves have to make the most of their Eastern Conference games, in order to make up any ground in the West.
More on Kevin Love. Love is currently averaging 24.8 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 4.2 assists with a true shooting percentage of 58.4%, earning him a start in the 2014 All-Star Game. He’s everything to that offense, and more. Along with his presence on the boards, his overall scoring ability, he’s also an impressive three-point shooter, shooting 38% from three this season. All in all, Love will be a very tough person to defend, especially with Pekovic on the court. One of Minnesota’s most successful (and used) lineups is the five-man group of Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin, Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic. That lineup has an offensive efficiency of 110.6, which is pretty good. The point is, Love is a great talent, and the Wolves have the right guys around him, forming an offensive wrecking ball in spurts.
How Chicago Can Win: Control the tempo. The Bulls are 28th in the league in pace, while Minnesota ranks second. Pushing the ball is Minnesota’s game, but so maintain possession, ranking second in the second in turnover percentage. If the Bulls were to win this game, I imagine the Bulls would be hitting threes and forcing Minnesota into long possessions. Joakim Noah (14.3 points, 15.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.6 blocks in his last 10 games) would have to continue his job of soliciting the offense through him, grabbing any and every rebound, and defending at an elite level, and from there, the Bulls have a chance to nab a victory from Minnesota.