Some ambivalence about tonight’s game:
The Wolves barely — BARELY — escaped their home opener against a lottobound Magic team with a win. It took an out-of-timeout, set-play three-pointer from K-Love just to tie the game with 10 seconds left. Arron Afflalo missed a turnaround jumper for the win, and the home team took care of overtime. It was not a home-opening performance to feel great about for a team that has playoff aspirations for the first time in forever.
But every win counts the same in the standings, whether it comes against Miami in March or Orlando in October. The Wolves will need more than 40 wins to sniff the playoffs, and they got one tonight. For some perspective, the all-time great Heat lost at Philly tonight, to a team with one of the least-talented rosters in NBA history. Anything can happen. So again, a win is a win. It’s a good result, even if not necessarily a good performance.
A lot of preseason fears came true in tonight’s game. Ricky Rubio missed a bunch of open shots. Kevin Martin got lost on defense a few times. The injection of perimeter offense that Martin provided seemed to come at the expense of Pekovic post-ups. (Martin scored 23; Pek just 11.) Physical defense bothered the hell out of Alexey Shved, who took to moping to referees like it was March 2013 all over again. Corey Brewer was Corey Brewer and J.J. Barea was J.J. Barea.
But a lot of the positives we hoped to see… well, we saw those, too.
Rubio was disruptive in passing lanes (3 steals) and dropped 11 dimes; some of his typically-flashy variety. If this team has hope of stopping opponents from scoring, it hinges on the leadership of Rubio on top of the defense. For every steal Ricky collects, he gets a finger tip on a simple rotation pass, or scares an unwitting pass receiver into a bad initial decision. He is one of the best defensive point guards in the league.
Kevin Love played like the best forward in the game, scoring 31 points on 19 shots, pulling down 17 rebounds (his 4 offensive rebounds seemed more like 14 — he was keeping the ship sailing with board crashes during an ugly stretch of team offense) and even dishing out 4 assists. Love had his complete bag of tricks in this game. When Jason Maxiell played post defense like an MMA fighter, Love easily drew the foul. Late in the 3rd Quarter, knowing his team was in the bonus, he busted out a big flop under the defensive boards — certainly not accidental timing — and got himself two more free throws of the bonus variety. He hit threes, and controlled the glass. He had the aforementioned game-saving trey. Love was an absolute stud in this game.
Dante Cunningham played his type of game, which most people seem to like: Converted open jumpers and smart, yet absolutely tenacious defense.
Oh, and also on the positive side of the ledger: Corey Brewer was Corey Brewer and J.J. Barea was J.J. Barea.
A win is a win is a win, and we still haven’t seen enough of them in the last — what, decade? to take one for granted. Especially a fun, drama-filled one with the franchise player hitting the big shot.
A few bullets:
* While I think the Magic are overrated by some (maybe it’s from listening to Bill and Jalen, but I get the sense that some are too impressed with that roster) it is a legitimate NBA team. While they don’t have a Kevin Love or even an Al Jefferson, they also don’t have the tank-tastic supporting players that many recent Wolves teams have had. Jameer Nelson and Afflalo is a real backcourt. They can create shots for themselves or others all night long. Nikola Vucevic is a huge center with a nice jumpshot and bigtime rebounding ability. He majorly outplayed his fellow Montenegrin Pekovic in tonight’s game. And Andrew Nicholson was a lot to handle in the post. I’m not sure the Wolves *could* handle him. But for whatever reason, he only played 19 minutes.
* Rookie Victor Oladipo made some early turnovers, but by the end of the night was doing some impressive things with the ball. His jumper looks solid (the biggest concern, in my opinion, about his transition to the pro game) and his athleticism is as advertised.
* Derrick Williams didn’t play. He doesn’t seem to have a spot in this team’s rotation.
* There was one defensive play that epitomized why Dante Cunningham is fun to watch on that end of the floor. He was battling for low-post position on the block with Nicholson, and giving up plenty of height and weight in the matchup. Dante was practically in a deep squat, working to half-front from the top side. Whoever had the ball on the wing drove baseline and Cunningham stepped entirely around the front of Nicholson to cut off the drive early, rather than spinning back (which would’ve been much easier) and helping at the rim. It’s one of many small things that separate his off-the-bench contribution level from others that either don’t have those defensive skills, or simply don’t work as hard. (In many cases, both.)
* Ronny Turiaf played 16 minutes of +5 basketball, tonight. I worry about him on offense, but liked his role on the high post as a passer and hander-offer to guards wheeling around. He’s strong enough with the ball and with his position to do those things. By giving Turiaf the ball there, he doesn’t have to be the non catch-and-shooter that I fear he’ll be when guys like Shved and Barea are driving and looking for last-second bailout options to pass to, for a quick shot.
* On ball screen defense, the Wolves mostly went underneath the screen. Jameer Nelson shot a lot of threes off the dribble. When it’s Steph Curry or even Tony Parker — who might reverse course a few times before it’s a 15-footer — the results might be uglier than they were tonight.
* Closely watching this team’s defense, and its individuals’ defense, is going to be a season-long process that will test everyone’s objectivity along the way. K-Love was scored on plenty tonight, but his own contributions dwarfed whatever he gave up. Still, if we’re analyzing this, we should point out when he doesn’t get a hand up on a corner shooter, or crabs to the ref while the Magic go 5 on 4. Brewer poked a lot of balls away and ran like hell in transition. He helped the team in those ways. But he’s too aggressive with his hands when defending in isolation. I wasn’t feeling too good about him checking Afflalo down the stretch. (To be fair, he played great, honest defense on the last possession of regulation.) Martin will most definitely be put under the blogosphere’s microscope this year. His reputation precedes him, and it’s pretty terrible on defense. I hate it when I feel like a defensive reputation is unshakable despite what happens on the floor over more time, so I’ll do my best to objectively critique K-Mart as the season goes on.
* In what is becoming a PDW tradition, Andy G is taking his talents to Patrick J’s residence for a trip that will include a Timberwolves road game. With Pat now in Pittsburgh instead of D.C., that means a visit to Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena on Monday Night. Wolves host Thunder Friday before visiting Madison Square Garden on Sunday and Cleveland on Monday. All will be difficult games to win.
Season Record: 1-0