Question 1: How’d Shabazz do tonight? Answer 1: Bazz was unreal. Had his best game as a pro. 20 points and 6 boards. TOUGH boards. Crunch-time, sky-up-in-a-crowd boards. For shits and giggles, he also had an assist and 2 steals. By far his best game.
Question 2: Yeah, but did he help the team? Answer 2: Yep. Wolves won at Phoenix, despite Martin and Pek sitting out. Shabazz’s plus/minus was +8 in 24:20 of action.
Question 3: What are Shabazz’s strengths? Answer 3: Physicality, positioning, and touch around the basket. That spinning lefty hook.
The Wolves lost tonight. The end result isn’t as upsetting to fans as the manner in which it came to be. Since it’s late and tomorrow is Monday morning, I’m doing this rapid-fire style with a few key bullet points:
* The obvious storyline is that Ricky Rubio sat out the entire fourth quarter, despite three major factors suggesting this was a bad idea:
1) He was playing pretty well. He had 11 assists in just 23 minutes of action;
2) A growing body of stats shows that the Wolves play much worse with Barea than with Ricky during fourth quarters; and
3) J.J. Barea, his replacement, lost his cool in a chippy matchup with Blazers reserve guard, Mo Williams. Barea actually won that matchup in the first half, scoring 15 points in the first two periods. But Williams eventually got him fired up (in a bad way — REALLY bad way) and this led to offensive fouls and dumb shots. Long story short: Rick Adelman has fans and analysts perplexed as to why he prefers Barea over Rubio down the stretch of close games. Wolves brilliant color commentator Jim Petersen openly discussed this confusion after the game, and it’s a story that is not going away.
That’s the two-word synopsis of last night’s victory in Salt Lake City. The Wolves power forward continued his even-better-than-usual stretch of dominance against the Jazz. In less than 33 minutes of action, Love put together his first career triple-double stat line. He scored 37 points, rebounded 12 missed shots, and assisted 10 of his teammates baskets. For the third consecutive game, Love attempted at least 10 threes (10). For the third consecutive game, he made at least 5 of them (6). Love connected with Corey Brewer for a few of their patented outlet bombs. He was a game-best +23 and, by far, the biggest reason that the Wolves won easily for the third consecutive game despite the absences of Kevin Martin (thumb) and Nikola Pekovic (ankle).
The Wolves beat the Pacers last night. They didn’t just beat the Pacers, but they handled them from start to finish. They led by 20 at one point in the first half, and ended up winning by 13 points. It probably rivals the victory at Oracle as the season’s most impressive.
My subjective reaction is one I’ve had after many Timberwolves wins during the Ricky Rubio Era:
The Wolves are a better team when Kevin Love shoots a ton of threes.
Love played incredible last night, scoring 42 points and pulling down 16 rebounds. My favorite part of his performance was how he hunted three-point shot attempts, realizing how strong the Pacers defense is in the interior. He ended up shooting 10 of them, making 5. When he does that, it removes him from the high post where he is effective at initiating offense, but also serves as an obstacle to Ricky Rubio’s playmaking. Against the Pacers, a freed-up Rubio dished 17 assists, setting a personal record that matched the franchise’s best in history.
My subjective feeling is barely supported by the numbers, this season. In wins, Love shoots 6.5 threes per 36 minutes versus the 5.9 per 36 that he shoots when the Wolves lose. But, to my eye, this season hasn’t properly tested this hypothesis because of the heavy reliance on high-post sets. Instead of Ricky Rubio wheeling around picks, looking to set up shooters and dunkers, we’ve seen much more emphasis on feeding Love behind the elbow to allow him to make a play. According to nba.com’s player-tracking data, Love touches the ball 86.9 times per game, which is more than Ricky Rubio’s 84.1 and much more than any non-point guard in the league.