Love’s Return…to Greatness (Wolves 97, KINGS 89)

It wasn’t easy.  Despite building a 13-point lead late in the 3rd Quarter of Tuesday night’s game at Sacramento the Wolves found themselves in a dogfight in the closing minutes.  With a minute to go, and holding just a 2-point lead, Andrei Kirilenko cracked the code of the annoying Kings zone defense, filling a seam, catching a pass and quickly flipping it over to Nikola Pekovic for an open layup.  On the other end of the floor, AK47 swatted a crucial shot of DeMarcus Cousins.  When he secured the loose-ball rebound himself, the game was in hand, with the five-game losing streak snapped.  The Wolves controlled most of this game, and deserved the win.  Since we’ve got another one tomorrow night (@ LA Clippers, 9:30 CST) I’m keeping it short, so we’re heading into the bullet format:

* Kevin Love played his best tonight.  He made shots (8-17 shooting, including a pair of 3′s) and scored 23 points.  He rebounded the hell out of the ball: 24 total, 3 offensive–including a key tip-in of a Luke Ridnour miss during #winningtime.  He defended well.  Most importantly, he didn’t hold the ball.  He allowed playmakers to make plays (particularly Kirilenko, who was more involved tonight), and he finished them and added possessions with all of those boards.  The 25 team assists, with the most of any individual being 6 (Barea) reflects the ball movement on display by the Timberwolves offense.  Love allowed that to happen by “fitting in” rather than being the whole show.  Great night for a great player.

* Luke Ridnour — He made a ton of jumpers.  He finished 8-13 with 18 points and 5 assists, but he was red hot in the middle of the game, 7 for 9 from the floor at one point.  He isn’t much of a table setter, but he’s a money shooter when he can clear himself with a dribble.

* Malcolm Lee — I’ve roasted him plenty, and Britt Robson took his turn in more-eloquent prose over at MinnPost this morning too.  But give him credit for putting together a solid performance tonight in 21 minutes of action.  Lee scored 10 points on 4-6 shooting including a pair of treys.  I don’t think he should be playing, but he deserves credit when it’s due.

* Defense — A much-better performance on the defensive end tonight.  In the halfcourt at least.  Rotations were quick and mostly correct.  The difference from the last two games was apparent in the 1st Quarter.  If I had to point to two reasons why this game was close despite the good offense, it would be 1) DMC shot the ball well from the perimeter, where Pek can’t guard him; and 2) Kings got the ball out in transition at every opportunity and capitalized on most of them.  But the halfcourt defense, within the confines of this team’s athletic ability, was about as good as it can be.  Slide Ricky Rubio in there for Luke and the ceiling is raised.

* Alexey Shved — I like the 27 minutes of playing time (I’d prefer it be more, but 27 is a fair amount of tick for a reserve) but I don’t like the pairing with J.J. Barea.  You can see even on TV how J.J.’s dominant personality equals dominance of the ball.  Then, later in the game, Shved becomes relied upon by the team to create action.  I never feel totally comfortable when Shved has the ball until he gets in that zone–the one he reached in a handful of earlier games–where he plays completely loose and without worry.  He did bury a pair of wing threes tonight (a sign of a pure shooter is hitting a wing three–the corners and top of the key are much more mechanical, robotic shots) but on the whole it wasn’t a great game for Shved.  I wish he’d play a lot of minutes without J.J. next to him.

A tough one on the way tomorrow night at Staples.  Very glad we got this one, because Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will be heavy favorites on their home court with rest.

Season Record: 6-7

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Love’s Return…to Greatness (Wolves 97, KINGS 89)

  1. Dave A.

    Wolves need help at the off-guard. Wolves will probably play more guys tonight. A good opportunity to see who might be trade bait.

    • Yes, lots of 2-PG lineups. Shved has the physical profile of an off-guard, and will probably play a lot there, even or especially when Ricky gets back, but Budinger was the one who thrived off the ball. I don’t know if they’ll make a trade or wait it out until Ricky and Bud get back.

  2. Eric in Madison

    Some thoughts.

    You can see how the Wolves will win if they win this season. It’s gonna be based on rebounding the ball at both ends and getting to the foul line. They have already moved up the rankings in defensive rebound % with Love back; he’s a force at that as well as drawing fouls.

    The 3 point shooting will get better; they aren’t going to stay this bad all season. Same thing happened last year, actually. They couldn’t make one for a while (I remember I got into it with Zach Harper (I think) over at AWAW when he suggested they stop shooting them).

    I agree that the offense was more smooth last night for most of the game; of course SAC is terrible.

    • Love and Shved, who figure to shoot 3′s at a high volume, should certainly see better percentages as they move closer to the mean. In Shved’s case we don’t have NBA data, but 25.5 percent is probably 5 to 15 percentage points lower than what I expect for his NBA seasons to look like. Love is an established high-percentage perimeter shooter and 20.8 percent is clearly a small sample size/playing with wrist brace issue.

      When Ricky comes back, the Wolves will likely be playing 48 minutes per game with at least one guard who thrives at breaking down defenses to find open three-point shooters. They need to take those shots and, like you say, either make them or rebound the misses.

      At different times this year, I’ve been impressed by the “walling up” (Jim Peterson’s term, I believe) that Pekovic and Stiemsma have done on interior help defense. There will be nights when Wes Matthews or someone else is unconscious from downtown but playing the drive lanes and rebounding missed shots is a good strategy.

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