Wolves vs. Hawks (The Uncertainty Edition)

Paul Millsap leads the Hawks against the Timberwolves tonight in Atlanta.

Paul Millsap leads the Hawks against the Timberwolves tonight in Atlanta.

Coming off of last night’s disappointing 94-90 loss to Memphis at home, the Wolves take on the Atlanta Hawks tonight in Atlanta in the second game of a back-to-back.

The Wolves had won five of six before falling to Memphis, but despite their stronger record as of late, at least three things still feel very off.

The first and most obvious is how the loss of center Nikola Pekovic has impacted the Wolves offense.

Minnesota, which averages over 105.8 points per game this season, hasn’t scored more than 95 in any of the three contests since Pek went down (including the Bulls game on 1/27, in which Pek played six minutes before leaving with what turned out to be bursitis). The team has to work far harder for its points, and is far less able to put up the gaudy stats they’d been putting up with Pek. Here’s wishing Pek a quick recovery.

The second involves Rick Adelman’s crunchtime rotations. Last night, he again benched Ricky Rubio in favor of J.J. Barea. The gambit did not pay off, and leaving Adelman wide open to second-guessing. We’ve openly wondered in these pages whether Rubio can become a solid “closer” at the point guard position, but when he’s playing well, you have to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The last one is Kevin Love. He’s playing well, will be starting in the All-Star Game, and all that. But it just feels, lately, as if his contract issue and the possibility of trading him is coming to a head. That’s natural as the trade deadline approaches, but regardless of how much of it is media and fan-induced speculation and how much of it is circulating either implicitly or explicitly in the Wolves locker room, it is yet another way in which following the Wolves closely is to sense that the team has put itself in a very delicate position in so many respects that it will be difficult to expect that everything will break in our favor and land us in the playoffs. That feels more and more like wishful thinking as the games pass.

***

Speaking of games, tonight the Wolves have Atlanta, in the ATL.

While the Wolves have been struggling to score as of late, Atlanta has surged in the opposite direction, averaging 109.7 points over its last seven games (8.3 more than it scored per game in its first 38). Paul Millsap has been leading the charge with 19 ppg during that stretch, along with resurgent play by DeMarre Carroll, who has been averaging 15.2 points on 9 shots during that period and has been making 63.2 (2.4 of 3.8 on 3PFGAs), grabbing over 6 boards, and averaging 1.8 steals over the Hawks’ last seven games.

The Hawks are vulnerable if the Wolves play a solid game tonight. Despite their uptick in offensive productivity over their last seven games, their only standout win came over Miami, during Miami’s spate of recent poor play. Otherwise, they’ve beaten Phila, Orlando, and Milwaukee, and lost to OKC, SAS, and Brooklyn. In other words, with the exception of their win over Miami, the Hawks have been winning against inferior Eastern Conference teams  and have been losing to teams that are clearly better and/or more talented than they are. 

Can the Wolves right the ship tonight? Or will they demur on the second night of a back-to-back?  It will be interesting to see.

Here’s some Dominque Wilkins (dueling with Michael Jordan) to pregame to.

See also ‘Nique’s recent appearance on The B.S. Report for some additional insight into all things ‘Nique.

Enjoy the tilt.

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