It is Nikola Pekovic’s job – it’s his vocation – to wipe smiles like Joakim Noah’s from opposing centers’ faces.
Following a disappointing loss in Portland on Saturday evening, the Wolves (21-22) continue their four-game road trip tonight in Chicago (22-21). Tip is at 7:00 P.M. CST. The game can be seen on NBATV and heard on WCCO 830.
Derrick Rose won’t be walking through that door. (Eds. Note: He might limp to that bench, I’m not sure. Key thing is, he isn’t playing tonight or for a long time.) Neither will Luol Deng, or even Kirk Hinrich.
But beating the Bulls tonight will require the Wolves to play top-level basketball. The Wolves haven’t beaten the Bulls in a very long time. Last season, Chicago swept the season series against the Wolves for the fourth straight year. They’ve now won seven straight against Minnesota.
And despite being decimated by injuries, the Bulls are perhaps the NBA’s hottest team that no one really cares about.
The Bulls are tied for the League lead in January wins so far, going 10-3 in 2014. They’re 8-3 since trading Luol Deng earlier this month in what appeared a clear towel-throwing move.
But the Bulls keep winning. Because Tom Thibodeau.
Remember when I said Derrick Rose, Lu Deng, and Kirk Hinrich won’t be walking through that door? That doesn’t matter. Thibs keeps the engine running on overdrive no matter what lineup he can put on the floor.
A few things stand out for tonight’s game.
Bo Ryan’s face while watching tonight’s beat-em-up halfcourt struggle in Chicago.
Without Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls are the NBA’s Wisconsin Badgers. There are no elite athletes or SportsCenter top plays. Just execution and defense. They set big screens. They use most of the shot clock. They talk on defense. They rotate on defense. They push people around in the lane. At United Center, they push people around without fear of hearing a whistle blown. The pictures are not pretty, but the final score is in Chicago’s favor.
All of those qualities were on display in Chicago tonight as the Wolves fell to the Bulls 87-80 in a game that felt neck-and-neck until Marco Belinelli (of all people) caught fire in the early part of the 4th Quarter. The Italian shooter made three treys in the first 2:05 of the fourth, extending a 4-point lead to 9. A 9-point deficit to the Bulls in Chicago might as well be 30. Everything felt like a struggle from that point forward–and that’s just me watching on the couch. I can’t even imagine how Dante Cunningham and Derrick Williams felt when Taj Gibson was swatting their shots into the third row. Gibson is truly an incredible defensive player. So is Joakim Noah, who also passes at an elite level and even showed off some fancy footwork on the block. The game-clinching play was when Noah did an Al Jefferson-like array of pivots that eventually left Nikola Pekovic in his dust as he laid in an easy two.
Joakim Noah leads the Bulls tonight against the Wolves
The Wolves play the Bulls tonight. The Bulls aren’t the same without Derrick Rose.
They struggle to create their own shots.
But they’re still 3-2.
The Wolves are in a similar situation without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio – their core.
They’re 4-1, after some inspired play last night and in other games.
Andy G and I are doing a series on players you’ll be watching for one reason or another this season on League Pass. Check out the first three entries below.
All-League Pass Rookie 1st Team, or “Rookies You Want to Watch”: http://punchdrunkwolves.com/2012/08/23/all-league-pass-team-vol-1-rookies-you-want-to-watch/
All-League Pass Rookie 2nd Team, or “Rookies You (Might) Want to Watch”: http://punchdrunkwolves.com/2012/08/24/league-pass-alert-vol-2-rookies-you-might-want-to-watch/
All-League Pass 1st Team, Eastern Conference: http://punchdrunkwolves.com/2012/08/25/league-pass-alert-vol-3-eastern-conference-league-pass-team/
This installment is a REACTION to Andy G’s All-League Pass Eastern Conference 1st team. It was an interesting list that suggested food for thought.
So, two things.
One. What to do about good players on bad teams. I don’t mean teams that are so bad they’re good. I mean the Pistons. Continue reading
Don’t think defense is fun to watch? Maybe you haven’t seen Taj Gibson play it.
Patrick J and I are doing a series on players you’ll be watching for one reason or another this season on League Pass.
Timberwolves fans are naturally less familiar with Eastern Conference teams and players. This is one reason of many why League Pass is a worthwhile purchase and use of time. The following is my ALL-LEAGUE PASS TEAM, Eastern Conference style. Oh, and remember the discussion surrounding Rookie Blake Griffin’s eligibility for both the Rookie Game and the regular All-Star Game? At Punch-Drunk Wolves, rookies only get one team — so the rookies Pat described here and here are INELIGIBLE.
G – John Wall, Washington Wizards: For the same reason you enjoy 100 meters of Usain Bolt, you should also enjoy 48 minutes of John Wall. The dude is just stupid fast. His shooting is a problem — a big one — but that hasn’t prevented Rajon Rondo and other point guards from doing good things. The ‘Zards have expunged some of the cancer that plagued recent seasons and the development of Wall; they traded Nick Young and let Andray Blatche take his talents elsewhere. Now that Wall can team with legit NBA talent (Nene, Okafor, Bradley Beal) the hope for League Pass aficionados is that Wall’s game will develop accordingly. His athleticism is breathtaking and we’d all benefit from getting to watch more of this guy in big games. Continue reading