Getting off the ledge regarding Timberwolves

RUFF:I'm sitting usual Give and Go partner Brett Boese on the bench this week, and bringing on someone who can make this piece an actual winner, my boss, Craig Swalboski (how's that for kissing up).

Speaking of longing to make something a winner, what's up with the Timberwolves. After an exhilarating start and one of the better stories in the NBA, the Wolves have sunk to something much more familiar. They're playing losing basketball, having dropped five of their last six games. What ails them?

SWALBOSKI:They're not as inept as they appear to be (a phrase I often use when a reader calls to complain about your writing). Dial back to Nov. 8, they beat Dallas, then easily handled the Lakers, then would have beaten the Clippers if they could have made one of their last-second shots, then they smoked Cleveland, lost to Denver, then drubbed the Celtics.

At that point the schedule got tougher and they lost close ones to Washington and the Clippers, blasted Brooklyn, lost road games to Indy and Houston, had another inexplicably hard time with Denver, beat Dallas again, lost on the road to Oklahoma City (where Kevin Durant had a game that was great even for him), and then lost to Miami without Kevin Love.

RUFF:Well, that helped. I'm actually feeling better. You're right, the schedule has been nasty, as has been the number of games that they played in a very short time.


Still, this has gone from a team that was thrilling me with its offense, to one that is struggling to score. And now they have added a defensive-minded guy in Luc Mbah a Moute, after trading former No. 2-overall pick Derrick Williams. But I am clinging to one hope. It's that when Chase Budinger returns at the end of December, that the Wolves bench becomes much more productive, as he gives them an actual wing scorer and 3-point artist. What are your thoughts? Can this still be a playoff team?

SWALBOSKI:Relax, my spelling-challenged minion. They have four games in the next week with teams under .500. This should be a perfect chance — disclaimer: three of those four games are away from home and the Wolves are 3-7 in road games this season — to build some momentum and regain confidence.

Picking up on your mention of Derrick Williams, I have been predicting NBA stardom for him once he gets maturity and experience. This was a move that had to be made; the team drafted Williams before Rick Adelman was hired as head coach and he's not an Adelman-type guy and he really needs to play the 4, where Kevin Love is firmly in place. That said, I agree, I'd rather see them bring in some firepower rather than kind of another Corey Brewer.

RUFF:Let's shift this basketball-Jones column in another direction, since like me, you have been watching Gophers football forever. The season has been a resounding success, no matter how the coming bowl game comes out (and I have to admit, a date with Syracuse does nothing for me).

I am already looking forward to next season. This team is REALLY young, and looks like it will be adding some exciting pieces offensively in the fall. But I think we both know, the team will go as far as its quarterback takes them. We've been on a roller-coaster ride this season with Philip Nelson. Give me your take on their quarterback situation.

SWALBOSKI:He's had ups and downs. Most teams pick a QB and stick with him even on the bad days, but this has been such a joint effort between him and Mitch Leidner that I am mystified why during the last two games — when the Gophers offense has failed to produce a touchdown — Leidner has barely gotten a snap.

I was so curious I dug into it a little and the only hint I can find is that maybe the coaching staff likes how Nelson doesn't fumble as often. Whatever the reason, when Nelson is going 7-for-23-for-83 yards like against Wisconsin or 6-for-18-for-72 like against Michigan State, Leidner — as a guy who has gotten the job done for the team several times — deserved more than just a few snaps early in the final game (not counting the last two series, after Nelson got hurt). Nelson's teammates deserved more than that: A better chance to win.

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