Some caveats before praising the Timberwolves before acknowledging some (minor?) causes for concern before looking ahead to an exciting weekend of matchups.
The Jazz are bad.
It’s nice to see the Wolves win any game, let alone one on the road that begins a winning streak. But Utah is really bad and tonight’s was a game that every fan expected the team to come away from victorious.
You could counter and say that Utah started the season horribly (1-14) and had played .500 ball over their past 26 games before the Wolves home and home.
And you’d be right.
But you’d also be ignoring the significance of Gordon Hayward’s absence from Saturday’s game (he’s their best offensive player) and Derrick Favors’ absence from tonight’s game (he’s their best interior defender).
These were games that the Wolves were supposed to win.
And they did win!
Both of em.
The Wolves first string jumped out to a great start in tonight’s game. At one point they led 30-12 in the first quarter. Talk about taking command of the game.
And they never really let up.
Corey Brewer played one of his finest offensive games, combining decent jump shooting with clever halfcourt basket cuts (which Love rewarded with assists) and a few of his patented leakouts. Brew had 19 points on 7-11 shooting. I’ll go out on a limb and say that they’ll never lose a game when they get that efficient of production from Corey.
Kevin Martin made a pair of threes in the early part of the game where his defender wasn’t quite out on him. The ones where he stands there with the ball, thinks about it, and fires. He missed a few of those, later in the game. They’re actually not bad looks and I don’t know why his opponents let him shoot. Martin then had a really cold stretch (he ended the game 5-16 from the floor) and sustained a pair of injuries. The first was to his ankle when he landed on Richard Jefferson’s foot. The second was to his hand — which was cut — when he deflected a pass. He left the game after the hand injury. Martin finished his game well, like he began it. Only at the free throw line instead of behind the arc. He and Brewer both had great cutting performances. Martin scored more than once by darting backdoor when his defender turned his head.
The man finding them on those cuts was Kevin Love, who posted an MVPish stat line of 19 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists – compared to just 2 turnovers. Love played under control, yet dominant. On more than one play, he saw Pekovic about to shoot a hook shot and set up shop on the opposite block. On one of them, the soft miss was right there and he tipped it in. On the other, he would’ve done the same thing if he wasn’t fouled. The whistle blew and the Wolves retained possession. He and Pek have formed an unbelievable chemistry on offense.
And last but not least, Ricky Rubio played an excellent game. Not only because he dished 13 assists and scored 11 points on just 5 field goal attempts, but also because defense matters. Even point guard defense. Ricky’s taken a beating in the newspapers and across internet punditry (some on this space) but it can never be repeated enough how awesome of a defender he is and how much it helps his team; a team that might truly suck on that end of the floor if he wasn’t playing. Early in this game, as the Wolves built their big lead, Ricky was digging down on unwitting Jazz post players. The steals he created led to transition offense and confidence for players like Corey Brewer who feel at home when the ball is rapidly changing possession.
It isn’t just the steals, either. Alec Burks, who is REALLY explosive off the dribble, was cut off by one of Ricky’s anticipatory lateral slides. Burks isn’t used to being cut off on dribble penetration. Not by a closing-out defender, anyway. But Ricky sees some things before they happen and he was there. Burks coughed up the ball.
Those types of plays should not be taken for granted. Trey Burke, who is off to a really nice start to his NBA career, was badly outplayed by Rubio in both Wolves-Jazz matchups.
And before I close on Rubio, I should also point out that he took the free time created by blood spilled on the floor to play catch with a little fan (from USA Today’s Sean Highkin):
Causes for Concern
Alexey Shved broke his nose when Rudy Gobert inadvertently smacked him upon landing from blocking his shot. While many fans might view a Shved departure from the lineup as good news, I’m less certain of that. He’s played much better of late; particularly since Ronny Turiaf returned to action and toughened up the second unit.
When Alexey left tonight’s game, the second-string offense went to crap. J.J. Barea was surrounded by Chase Budinger (more on him in a moment), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (one way player, and that way is not offense), Dante Cunningham (can shoot from the elbows, but creates nothing) and Ronny Turiaf (about as effective a scorer as LRMAM). The sets became a series of passes from JJ to teammates, followed by holding the ball until JJ came to take it back and create something.
Kind of like this, in other words:
I don’t know how long Alexey will be out. (Maybe they just fit him for a mask and he’s good to go?) But I worry a little bit about the second-quarter offense in his absence.
Okay, I just fooled around a little bit on nba.com with their lineup data. I think 4-man lineups are a better source of information on the Wolves second unit, because they don’t have a clear cut “second five.”
If you filter out lineups that have played less than 50 minutes, two things stick out in the “net rating” (overall team performance, per possession):
1. 5 of the top 9 four-man lineups have Shved in them. These lineups all have Barea in them, too. That’s Adelman’s reserve backcourt of choice.
2. Barea is in 10 of the team’s 12 worst four-man lineups. Of those 10 four-man lineups, Shved is only in 2 of them. Now, those are four-man lineups, which means there’s another player on the floor with those four guys. So some of the time, that guy was probably Shved. But 10 out of 12 with JJ? That tells me that Invincible JJ is probably doing his thing while the team struggles without another player who can create stuff off the dribble.
I don’t think I like that idea.
Get well soon, Alexey.
The other cause for concern is Chase Budinger. He scored 0 points on 0-4 shooting in tonight’s game. On Saturday he made 1 of 5 shots, which amounted to his only 3 points of that night. In 7 games, playing 15.3 minutes per, he’s shooting 27.0 percent from the field. He doesn’t look comfortable. He’s not getting himself open and he’s forcing questionable shots anyway. Chase is also not looking too spry on the defensive end.
I made some halftime notes, one of which was, “Budinger isn’t getting to good spots.”
Then I saw Britt Robson tweet about it:
Chase Budinger has a looong way to go.—
(@brittrobson) January 22, 2014
I’m sure coming back from his second knee surgery in as many years will take some time. But for now — at a critical point in this season on the brink — the Wolves aren’t getting much out of Chase.
Exciting Weekend Ahead
This is going to be a fun weekend. The Wolves play at Golden State on Friday night and at Portland on Saturday night. Both of those teams present interesting matchups (Rubio vs Curry, Pek vs Bogut; Rubio vs Lillard, Love vs LMA) and the crazy-late game times matter so much less when we don’t have to work the next morning.
I’d love a split of those two games. Either win would represent the team’s best of the season and help get them approaching the tougher games as if they f**king BELONG.
Should be a blast.
Season Record: 20-21