Rudy Gobert and the Timberwolves aren’t going anywhere without each other

MINNEAPOLIS β€” On Rudy Gobert’s first possession at the middle of the Minnesota Timberwolves lineup, Anthony Edwards popped out of Gobert’s screen on the right wing, turned around and lofted a slick pass to the big man, who laid the ball down. .

It was a nice little “welcome” moment for a player still making his way in a new city with a new coach and a new group of teammates. A few minutes later, Edwards tried to hit Joubert with another elbow but he overtook him. There were times when Joubert looked dominant Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks, and there were times when the Timberwolves couldn’t maximize him in a 104-99 loss that snapped a three-game winning streak, a game that illustrated the painstaking process. To adapt to life with Joubert.

Joubert missed the previous three matches due to a sprained ankle. With Joubert and Carl Anthony Towns out of the squad, Wolves have returned to the hyperactive defense and attack that propelled them to success last season. They enjoyed spacing and rushing, but also beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks, three teams that have struggled to achieve any consistency together this season.

If the Timberwolves are going to compete with the best in the Western Conference aspirations so far this season seem so ambitious, Joubert has to be a big part of what they do. It was early Wednesday night against the minuscule Mavericks.

Joubert scored eight points and three rebounds in the first five minutes against Dallas to break Christian Wood and the four guards around him. His 7-foot-1 frame looked larger than usual against a Dallas frontcourt who went 6-10, 6-6, 6-5. Although Towns wasn’t on his side – and he won’t be for several more weeks – it was the kind of bullying ball Wolves envisioned when they traded for him in July.

The surprising reaction to the Timberwolves’ loss would be that it was Gobert’s fault, that he was back on the team finding a rhythm and quickly getting in the way. But it was hard to point a finger at him for this, not with the Coyotes going 8-of-30 from 3-point range, shooting just 10 free throws and collapsing with their perimeter defense during a disastrous stretch in the fourth quarter.

Edwards (0 of 4), Jaylen Nowell (0 of 5) and D’Angelo Russell (0 of 7) fouled 16 of 3. Edwards attempted only 2 free throws and lamented not attacking the edge more against the toothless Mavericks internal defense.

“The offense was really hurting us tonight,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “I thought we created a lot of really good chances at times throughout the game, and we missed a lot of really good shots, especially when we had an attenuator when we could have taken a four-point game to a double-digit game. But that happens sometimes.”

On nights like these, with clattering shots from everyone outside Austin Rivers (21 points, 3-of-5 in 3 seconds) and Naz Reed (2-of-2 from beyond the arc), Joubert could have played a bigger role up front after the possession-saving rebound. on a missed layup.

Joubert finished with 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting, 15 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. But the Wolves seem to have left more on the table due to the inability to take advantage of his size for a game of pick-and-roll. He scored 11 points on six shots over the last three quarters, with Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, and Gaylene Noel all struggling to get the ball to him against a mismatch.

Jaden McDaniels found Joubert for one ball in the second half, but that was it. There have been more than a few times when Joubert seemed to have a great position on much smaller Mavericks defenders, but the guards just couldn’t make the pass in time.

“I thought he did a good job on the rolls,” said Finch. β€œI thought he was open about some cars, things like that. We found him once out of a timeout. I thought he was open about a lot.”

It’s something the Wolves have struggled to do all season, limiting Joubert’s effectiveness in offense and making it difficult for them to put the defense on his heels and penalize them for not paying more attention to the senior. It will take learning, building confidence and compromise. And it will take some time. Wolves are not there yet.

“I’m going to watch a movie and see how I can make myself more available,” said Joubert. “But yeah, I thought we could hurt them more inside, especially when I had men younger than me.”

For all the questions the acquisition of Gobert created to pair with Towns in the frontcourt, Russell was the one who should have benefited most. Al-Qaeda has always played well with a big team, and he said he was more excited to play with that team and with Joubert than he ever was in his eight-season NBA career.

Synergy was not there yet. Russell doesn’t often look Joubert’s way past his screens, preferring to find his mid-range shot, which was deadly in December, or shove it out to the perimeter. Edwards is now learning how to bowl balls and Nowell has been in a shooting first position all season.

“It’s also a different style of basketball that we used to play, especially when I come back from injury,” Joubert said. “Ant found me on the first play, it was a great pass, we have to keep building, keep working together.”

Joubert tries to make some concessions himself. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year has been a monster of pick-and-roll drop coverage throughout his career. To accommodate his skill set, Wolves switched from a high-wall scheme last season that emphasized scrambling, recovering and creating cuts for running backs, which relied more on discipline and staying home. Edwards credited his increased communication in defense with a switch back in the high wall when Reid had been filling in for Joubert in the previous three games.

But the Wolves ran more Wednesday night with Joubert than they have done almost all season, trying to woo players who looked bolder with a more energetic scheme during their winning streak.

“I can do anything,” said Joubert. “It’s just about what’s best for the team.”

The Wolves made it through most of the game, holding the Mavericks to 75 points in the first three quarters. Then they had a series of meltdowns in the fourth, and Luka Doncic had them dinner. Dallas scored five consecutive 3-pointers in two and a half minutes to turn a three-point deficit into an eight-point lead.

There were sinners all over the Wolves’ perimeter defense. Edwards fell asleep as a low man on one possession and was slow coming out into the corner. Rivers was held up while his man was being pursued and its closure was delayed. Russell missed the turn. Pretty easy for Doncic, who finished with 25 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

“I thought it was our game,” Rivers said. β€œI thought our game is the whole game, and all it takes is a short period like that. It’s very frustrating.”

There may have been some confusion in defense as Wolves cycled through the charts, but this has been a focus for Finch all season. He believes that Wolves should be diverse in their defensive style to allow them to match up with a wide variety of opponents. So far, they’ve looked their best at the high wall, but there’s still a shyness that comes with unfamiliarity.

“These are things we should be able to do,” Finch said. β€œWe have to be able to do a lot of different things. And he (Jobert) was really good tonight.”

The Wolves fell to 16-16 on the season. They haven’t played in two games over . 500 since going 4-2 on October 28th. Now things got tough. They start a four-game road trip on Friday in Boston (22-10) and also go to Miami (16-16), New Orleans (18-12) and Milwaukee (22-9).

Edwards, who has 23 points, five assists and four turnovers, appears on the cusp of making a leap. Rivers found his stroke and McDaniels was playing well at both ends. The Coyotes may be 10th in the Western Conference, but only two Sacramento linebackers for the sixth seed would put them out of the Play-In tournament, and three Phoenix linebackers for the No. 4 seed and a homecourt advantage in the first round.

For all the unevenness of Gobert’s incorporation, none of them escaped. Had they made several more shots on Wednesday for their fourth straight win, they would have been feeling a lot better about themselves. Joubert knows none of this has been easy for him or his teammates. But he loves the energy in the locker room as they continue to work through it.

“I’m really happy with the way we come to work every day, putting in the extra work,” he said. β€œAnd then when it comes time to match, I’m really happy with the physique and the competitiveness. I think that’s what will take us as far as we can.”

They are not going anywhere unless they do it together.

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(Joubert photo: Matt Crone/USA Today)


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