A Big Easy Win (WOLVES 124, Pelicans 112)

That second half was boring, but for a good reason. The Timberwolves lead grew to 30 when Kevin Love buried a trey for an 87-57 advantage with 4:51 to play in the third quarter. After that, the game was equal parts sloppy and chippy. At one point Anthony Davis barked at Dante Cunningham and got himself T’d up. At another, Corey Brewer was whistled for a tech while he sat on the bench. The Wolves allowed many quick — immediate, even — Pelicans baskets after their own scores in the fourth quarter.

But the work was done in the middle quarters of the game, which Minnesota won by a combined 19 points. Alexey Shved checked in late in the first quarter and played some of his best ball of the year (not a high hurdle to clear, I realize). Shved was active on defense, deflecting passes and even blocking a shot. On offense, he made the clever passes we grew accustomed to last year, and also made a pair of corner treys. (See his 2012-13 shot chart for convincing evidence that Alexey should ONLY shoot threes from the corners.) Shved’s final plus-minus of (-8) looks bad because he was on the floor during the aforementioned garbage-time slop. His first stint of the game was key, when the Wolves late-first-quarter deficit of 1 was erased and turned into a 5-point lead by the time Shved checked out.

But it wasn’t like Shved was THE reason the Wolves won. No, I just had to lead with him because of subjective/bias reasons and also because he played the most above his average level. But no, Shved was not the player of the game or anything. Ricky Rubio found open driving lines and converted layups. He also made a three. He also nearly got his self a triple double. (14 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals). Kevin Love had a measly-by-his standards 21 and 6, but played a nice floor game against a terrifying defender in Anthony Davis. Nikola Pekovic had 22 and 7. Kevin Martin scored 20 points. J.J. Barea scored 17. A lot of guys played well and — for much of the game — just about everything was working. Love completed outlet bombs for assists. Brewer’s gambles usually paid off.

From a team stats perspective, the Wolves shot 35 free throws and made 28 of them. Drawing fouls against the physical Pelicans backcourt was an early key to the game. Jrue Holiday played less than 23 minutes due to foul trouble. The Pelicans are really bad when he sits out. Later, during second-unit stretches, drawing fouls against former Wolf and hack-happy center, Greg Stiemsma, also helped generate free throw opportunities. But it wasn’t just free throws this time. The Wolves also shot 55.7 percent from the field, which is WAY above their season average of 43.3. Part of that was getting out in transition, but it was also due to the improved shooting from Barea and Shved. The Pelicans were careless with the basketball and committed offensive fouls.

It just wasn’t a close game. The Wolves played well against a good team that played poorly. They’re back to .500 with a 16-16 record. Next up is the division-leading, but Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder. That game is at Target Center on Saturday night. A win over Kevin Durant that also serves to push the team back over .500 would be a nice little Saturday, indeed.

I’ll close with a few quick hitters:

* Robbie Hummel is only shooting 28.6 percent from three-point range. That’s bad. But don’t expect me to change my mind about preferring Hummel — because of his perimeter shooting ability, no less! — to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and maybe even Corey Brewer on the small forward depth chart. Basically, I’m going “eye test” all the way on this. Hummel is a good shooter. Just watch him do it. Everything about his shot is fundamentally correct and his misses are barely misses. He’s bound to get that percentage up if he’s ever given a full, uninterrupted opportunity. He shot over 41 percent from downtown last year in the ACB League. In four, monumentally successful seasons at Purdue, he shot a ton of threes and made an upper 30s percentage in three of them. He was over 40 in the other. He’s a shooter. He’s a shooter. He’s a shooter. He’s a shooter. I won’t stop believing this. NUMB#RS be damned!

* Mbah a Moute has unbelievably bad hands. It’s weird. I love the guy’s defense; especially when he’s pitted against isolation scorers. But he’s almost worse than worthless offensively because he doesn’t even catch the ball.

* When Pekovic has his left-shoulder baseline hook shot dropping, just pack up and call it a night. Oh and he made a square-up jumper tonight. The evolution continues.

* In the regular course of play and in physical scrums under the basket, Anthony Davis manages to reach higher than anyone I’ve ever seen. Okay, higher than anyone I’ve seen since young Kevin Garnett. He’s like a slightly more athletic DeAndre Jordan, but with skills.

* Monty Williams is (or was before tonight’s game anyway) an ornery S.O.B. He got way too annoyed when asked two (just two!) questions about Anthony Davis. But he did provide an interesting answer about what makes The Brow so great. He basically said, and I’m paraphrasing, that he criticizes Davis after every game because he has weaknesses (presumably these relate to defensive positioning) that don’t show up in the stat sheet. He says Davis always “bounces back” from that criticism and does not “cry about it or call his agent.” Williams, for better or worse, is an unapologetic “old school” coach. He was a 90s Knick and appreciates a hard foul. He’s not impressed by brain-injury research. Is he a good coach? I don’t know. I’m certainly not impressed by his team’s 26th ranked defense when it boasts both The Brow and the terrorizing point defender, Jrue Holiday.

* Before the game, Rick Adelman was asked about Shabazz Muhammad possibly getting minutes if the bench continues to struggle. Adelman pointed to the good recent performance by the bench against the Wizards and basically said he doesn’t have any imminent plans for change. He then expounded a little bit on his answer and said that Bazz will get an opportunity and he specifically mentioned that he’s very “physical.” In the limited instances we’ve been able to watch him play (like tonight at the very end) that physicality is apparent. He almost seems better suited for post ups than dribble penetration. I guess it’s an open question whether this ever becomes an issue, but it’s fun to think about rookies.

Season Record: 16-16


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