The Timberwolves are back to five hundred. On Friday night at Target Center, they beat the Wizards by 22. On Saturday night in Milwaukee, they beat the Bucks by the same lopsided margin. With these wins, their record is now 15-15; good for ninth place in the West.
Taken together, the games’ eight quarters were like a sandwich made of stale bread, but with the finest meats and cheeses. The first quarter against Washington was rough. Well, the opening few minutes were rough, as John Wall came out hot and the Wizards led 9-0 on the Wolves home floor. The crowd started to groan. But the Wolves, led by Kevin Love, chipped away and cut the deficit to one at the quarter break.
The Wolves next six quarters, second through fourth against Washington and first through third against Milwaukee, were a walk in the park. Shots went in. Turnovers were forced but not committed. Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic were the best players on the floor. Corey Brewer scored on his fast-forward-button throws at the backboard square. Ricky Rubio organized an effective offense and bothered his opponent on defense. Against the Wizards, JJ and Shved played well above their norm. Against the Bucks, Kevin Martin was red hot.
Quarter scores in this six-period stretch were all in Minnesota’s favor, save one tie: 39-24, 27-27, 32-24, 34-28, 30-27, 39-21.
The fourth quarter in Milwaukee was that other slice of bread; the one with the mold on it. Rather than continue the focused offense and aggressive defense, the Wolves second unit let up. What was a 31-point lead with 51 seconds left in the third dropped to just 17, halfway through the fourth. Instead of subbing in rookies Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad for some needed reps, Rick Adelman instead barked at his starters — Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, and Kevin Love — to get back in there.
They won the game easily enough and upped the lead by five points before the final buzzer. But ending such a nice weekend of blowout-winning basketball with such a crappy final period was enough to upset Adelman. I’m sure he’ll use it as teaching point in prepping the team for its upcoming stretch of eminently winnable games. The Wolves will be favored to win their next six games, five of which will be played at Target Center. The effort and focus they put forth in the middle six periods this weekend will get it done. The performance bookending that excellence will not.
A few bullets:
* Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is the backup small forward. Robbie Hummel is not in the rotation. If I Ruled The
World Timberwolves, I would flip that around. Hummel defends just fine, and what’s the need for a one-on-one stopper against second strings, anyway? LRMAM (this seems to be the internet-consensus typing strategy for Luc’s long name) is just so terrible on offense. The Wolves need another shooter. Shit, Hummel should probably start over Brewer at the three. Too many assists are burned up by nice passing sequences ending in open Brewer’s hands. Especially in the corners.
* It’s really enjoyable to watch the many ways the team is incorporating Nikola Pekovic into the halfcourt offense. Rather than bland post feeds from the wing — a dying NBA strategy that once pervaded pro playbooks — the Wolves utilize all sorts of quick hitting plays to put the ball in Pek’s hands close to the basket, where he scores more than anyone in the league not named LeBron James or Andre Drummond. At the end of the first half against the Bucks, Pek had the ball behind the high post. Love came over the way a wing player normally would and they exchanged a dribble handoff. Love attracted both defenders right when Pek slipped to the basket, caught Love’s pass and scored. Later in the game, Pek found Love on a high-low to set up an easy jump hook. Aesthetically and probably functionally, high-low action brings out the best of the pair. They can go either way: Love to Pek or Pek to Love. It’s a treat to watch them play together. Oh and on a team that misses a high percentage of its field goal attempts, Love and Pek come in extra handy. They rank first (Pek) and second (Love) in the league in second-chance points. That’s pretty crazy.
* Alexey Shved is an enigma. Yeah, I know you already knew that. He’s shooting under 27 percent from the field and it’s almost January. But he still plays. This is mostly because they don’t have anybody else. Shabazz isn’t ready, and A.J. Price isn’t good enough. But Adelman really seems to be invested in Shved and wants to get more out of him. “We’ve gotta get him going” is the common expression. After the win on Friday, the media was treated to some Adelman humor when he was asked if Shved (who has been playing slightly better, of late) was getting comfortable in his role:
His role? I love that term. He’s a basketball player. That’s what he is. And he’s gotta go out and play the game of basketball to the best of his ability. That’s his role. I’m just kidding. That seems to be the first thing when things go bad; they don’t know their roles. I think not playing, after playing last year a lot and not playing at the start of this year, he just got into where he wasn’t going hard all the time. And I think there’s been a big difference the week before Christmas and tonight he was very active. And he was doing the things that he can do. He’s a very talented player. But, he’s gotta do things that… doesn’t involve the ball. You know, and that’s where I think he’s picking up and doing more and more of those things and his confidence level… he’s a guy that has the ability to make shots for us. Him and J.J. And I thought tonight he did a nice job.
One of the many great things about Adelman is his total inability to feed bullshit to media. What you see is what you get and when he says something, he means it. That’s why I can’t help but focus on, “He’s a very talented player” in that quote. We’ve seen Shved dominate. He dominated in the Olympics and he dominated for a stretch in the early part of last season. More than anything else, Shved has shown elite instincts as a passer who sets up open jumpers and layups alike. But as Adelman notes, he does need to play better when he’s off the ball. I don’t know if we should be happy or mad that the team is continuing the effort to incorporate Shved into the system. They gave up on talent in Michael Beasley and now he’s playing great with the Heat who decided to commit to him. Maybe patience and persistence will pay off this time around. For what it’s worth, Shved is always laughing and having fun with teammates on the bench. I don’t think the “change this face” issue from last season is a factor now. He just needs to get the basketball straightened out.
Next game is Monday versus Dallas at Target Center. Until then.
Season Record: 15-15