Wesley Johnson, the player selected fourth overall in the 2010 NBA Draft in large part due to shooting prowess, is now hitting 31.7 percent of all shots from the floor and 12.5 percent of three-point attempts. So, why did Johnson log 34 minutes on a night when his shooting woes (3-11 total; 0-4 3PT) continued? My only guess is that the coaches felt that the matchups dictated Wes being out there. JOHN SALMONS! is actually a pretty good isolation scorer. He’s played this role on decent teams (Chicago, Milwaukee) unlike many nondescript ballers of his ilk. Wes, shooting struggles aside, stayed right with Salmons all night, leaving the scoring specialist with a 4-11 shooting line, with 11 points and 2 turnovers. In this respect, Wes did his job. But man–he’s missing WIDE OPEN SHOTS. Wayne Ellington is not missing these shots and is a noticeably-better offensive player than the second-year wing from The ‘Cuse.
The Wolves hit a rough patch in the 2nd Quarter. After a pair of Derrick Williams free throws (his only points of the evening–more on this below) the Wolves led 30-22. Over the next 11:21 to end the half, the Kings ripped off a 24-12 stretch that had Wolves fans a little-bit restless at the break. Much of these struggles was directly attributable to missing jumpshots. On some of these–particularly with Derrick Williams and Kevin Love–there was hesitation to shoot after a solid pass, usually from Rubio. I thought we were done with this. The Rule of Rubio is that he passes, you shoot. How many of the great Wolves moments from this early season HAVEN’T been tied to catch-and-shoot basketball? In any case, the Wolves went to halftime with a 4-point deficit and some talking points ready made for the coaching staff.
In the third, the shooting wasn’t hot, but the Wolves (specifically, Kevin Love) grinded it out with a combination of free throws and better defense. Love had 11 points total in the quarter, en route to a 33-point, 11-rebound, 3-assist, 2-steal gem of a performance. This was classic Love, baiting officials into questionable foul calls, and hitting opportune jumpers to break the opponent’s back. His interaction with the refs reached a tipping point tonight, earning him a technical foul and later flirting with an ejection. He is quickly approaching the Kobe and LeBron level of getting utmost respect from the refs, and giving thanks by way of whiny gestures. Oh well — it’s a lot-less annoying when it’s your team getting the calls. On this night Love was a team-best (+22).
The lid came all the way off the basket in the fourth, with Ellington, Ridnour and Love taking turns making it rain at Target Center. After a Jason Thompson dunk cut the lead to 1 (72-71) Adelman called timeout. The Wolves then proceeded to a 27-15 closing stretch over 8:51. Rubio hit a trey to extend the lead to 9 at the 5:11 mark and swung a fist of celebration to the crowd. This was a frustrating game for him, in part due to his own misfiring on jumpers (3-10 total) but also because teammates (Darko, Wes, Pekovic) blew easy scoring opportunities that only Ricky can provide. Pekovic and Milicic, as was pointed out by David Thorpe who attended this game, are not at all Rubio’s kinda guys on the court. His (-3) was a rare negative +/- for the young phenom.
All in all, it was a hard-fought win against a bad team. In years past, a win was a win was a win. Since this year is DIFFERENT (the Wolves currently own a 0.5 game edge over the BOSTON CELTICS!) a struggle-fest against the Kings that requires a Wellington Bailout feels less satisfying. I hope they dispose of the shitty Pistons on Wednesday with relative ease.
A few bullets:
* DeMarcus Cousins can’t get no respect. I don’t even mean this as a joke–sure, he invites criticism by his constant whining, but so does Kendrick Perkins and it doesn’t seem to prevent Perk from getting a call or two. Cousins must have been hacked or pushed a half dozen times in this game by the Serbian-Montenagran combo of Darko and Pek. He shot 0 free throws for his efforts and was called for 4 fouls of his own in 25 minutes of action. From my view it looked like the refs had it out for the enigmatic big man. For what it was worth, he hit some nice jumpers and really does show off excellent footwork. For his sake, I hope he finds some sort of comfort level in the NBA so we can all watch his talent on a consistent basis. The league needs more talented bigs to balance out this wave of awesome lead guards.
* Since Rubio looks like the business as a true point guard, I’ll make what some might consider to be a BOLD STATEMENT: Steph Curry wouldn’t be any better for this team than Luke Ridnour is. Luke is playing off the ball now, and is shooting as well as any Timberwolf I can ever remember. He had 25 points and 9 assists tonight on 10-14 shooting (4-4 from 3.) Curry is an awesome point guard, but if you’re sticking each slightly-built point guard off the ball, I don’t see a big difference between he and Luke Ridnour. Not only did Luke shoot well tonight, but he also defended Marcus Thornton just fine. I doubt very much that Curry would have been able to handle that matchup the way Ridnour did. (OBVIOUS REBUTTAL: Curry would have trade value that Luke doesn’t.)
* The Kings might improve some if Francisco Garcia played more. He “fits in” out there and doesn’t need to dominate the ball. They’ve got a surplus of ball-dominant wings (without a single true point) who like to slash. The lone saving grace is that they penetrate-and-kick. On some similarly-built offenses (the Dunleavy-led Clips come to mind) the isolation is without passing. Sacramento doesn’t seem quite as selfish as they do mismanaged. Jimmer was a stupid draft pick for that roster.
* Pekovic fouls on damn-near every possession. He was called for 4 tonight in 16 minutes and none of those were the time he threw DMC to the ground after a missed free throw.
* Derrick Williams made exactly one move tonight that got me excited. He squared up a defender from 14 feet and went right at him to the cup. This is the Amar’e stuff that he seems to have the potential to try. He got fouled and made a pair of free throws; his only points. The next time he found himself on the elbow with one-on-one coverage, he looked lost and passed it off after a hesitation. He is battling some confidence issues. Given this team’s propensity to start chucking from three (perhaps the best way to win games, right now) it sure would be nice if it could incorporate D-Thrill as an interior scoring presence.
Season Record: 5-8