Okay, folks, the Wolves are winners again. Hallelujah, rejoice. They beat the Phoenix Suns 111-107 last night at home.
They did it without Golden Boy Ricky Rubio, about whom I’d written a slurptastic game preview, in which I suggested Rubio and Love were/are/will be the keys to the Wolves winning anything significant. Kirilenko, Shved, and Pek are nice bit pieces – nicer than we’ve had since 2004-05 – but they’re dispensible in different ways. Rubio and Love aren’t, unless we’d flip one of them for someone even better. Pau Gasol probably doesn’t qualify, for those of you still fantasizing about a Love-Gasol trade. If you’re reading, that includes you, Kevin Love.)
A few thoughts from last night’s game:
1) Love regained his shooting form–is this a key to the Wolves having a good offense?
We’ve ripped Love for being a ballstopper in an otherwise motion offense. Last night, Love shot a not-great 8-20 from the floor, but two of his six treys rattled in, and he was shooting in rhythm. Maybe seeing Scola scoring every time on the other end was motivation enough for Love to get on the scoreboard himself, ending up with 23 & 18.
2) Shved & Pek are the kings of the pick-and-roll
It goes like this: Alexey is handling the ball, he takes the Pek screen, he takes at least 3-4 dribbles, often waiting an almost uncomfortably long time. He looks away. He hesitates. He keeps his dribble. And he finds Pek, finally, flashing to the hoop at the last second, just when he’s left his defender a step behind. Two points. And Shved can shoot the shot and make it when he needs to, either because he’s wide open, or just to keep the defense honest – otherwise, they’d all collapse on Pek. Is there a better pick-and-roll combo in the League right now, at least in how they run it to a T. Textbook stuff. Beauty. Shved ended up with 12 pts (on only 6 shots – EFFICIENCY), 10 asts, and 4 boards. Pek had 28 & 11. Ho-hum. He’s had a really good stretch of games, save for that last one against Houston, when he was out ill. He’s a 20-10 machine right now, which should free up Love to roam the perimeter and make threes. Which is important. There’s no Chase Budinger walking through that door, and increased minutes for Rubio are going to be minutes going to a guy who’s a worse three point shooter than any of his replacements.
3) AK47 shot nearly 100%. And his incredible floor sense – knowing where to be, and when to be there – were on full display
Okay, Kirilenko only shot 76 percent last night on 10-13 shooting – not quite perfect, but pretty damn good. He’s the ultimate role player. We love this guy. He guards the other team’s best player every night unless he’s a 1 or a 5, and he does a hell of a job doing it. He found players (4 asts) and had 5 boards to go with his 20 pts.
How much of an upgrade over Wes Johnson is this guy? Johnson can’t crack the Suns’ rotation, and didn’t play last night. (Incidentally, my mother picked me up a Wes Johnson jersey off the clearance rack at TJ Maxx and gave it to me for a Christmas present. Bless her soul, she doesn’t know the difference between Wes Johnson and Magic Johnson, but she knows I love the Wolves. But still – Wes Johnson? Why were they even printing those jerseys? Didn’t the NBA watch his first preseason?)
4) Mike Beasley sucks–but why does he suck SO BAD?
Beasley is a lost child. With an 18 million dollar Kahntract. Glad it’s not our Kahntract. Beasley was miserable last night. In language he’d get, Beas was schwag, not chronic – 1-8 from the floor for 2 pts in 10 mins. Yep, schwag. The thing is, Beas is never chronic anymore. Why?
5) As expected, Scola, Brown, and Dragic were problems
Scola had a season-high 33, tripling his season average. Shannon Brown, as predicted, had a nice night with 21 pts. And Goran Dragic had 16 pts, 12 asts, and 0 turnovers. The Wolves point guards didn’t put any pressure on Dragic, and he pretty much carved them up, as much as you can on a team with so few weapons in its arsenal. Box score here.
6) Road/Road combo of Jazz-Nuggets ahead – a good test of where this team is at
The Wolves are off until Wednesday, and then play a back-to-back in Utah and Denver against key Western Conference competitors. Right now, they’re just 1/2 game behind Denver for the 8th seed in the playoffs, and a game ahead of Utah in the standings. For the Wednesday game in the SLC, Rubio should be back. Roy shouldn’t. (*Wipes tear*)
Can the Wolves pick up a couple of road wins? Check in with Punch-Drunk Wolves for the deets.