Wolves-Pacers Preview (& Ricky’s Shooting…)

Back to basketball tonight. The basketball that counts, I mean.

It’s been a while, as the Wolves last played one week ago; a home victory over the depleted Denver Nuggets. Tonight will be a far different test with the Indiana Pacers in town. Frank Vogel’s boys are 41-12; owners of the best record in the Eastern Conference. (Second best in the NBA, behind Oklahoma City.) Indiana’s recipe success is simple: long, athletic, aggressive, smart defenders working together as a cohesive unit. Together, they take away shots in the lane and behind the three-point line. Instead, the Pacers invite mid-range jumpers that are usually contested. Per nba.com/stats, the Pacers allow the most field goal attempts per game from 15-19 feet (just inside the three-point line) and the second-most per game from 10-14 feet. Taken together, it adds up to, BY FAR, the league’s top defense.

So that’s the challenge tonight. Figuring out ways to score. According to espn.com, the Pacers are 3-point favorites. It should be a competitive game. The playoffs are almost definitely out of the picture for this team, but it’s always fun to take on a challenge like this one against a title contender in front of the home crowd.

In other news, the trade deadline is tomorrow. There are multiple reports suggesting that J.J. Barea and Chase Budinger might be headed to Memphis in exchange for Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen. There are thousands of tweets suggesting that either Kevin Love will be a Laker or that Laker fans are stupid and don’t know what they’re talking about.

It’s just that time of year. Try to enjoy it.

Also, there are a pair of feature stories in the local press about Ricky Rubio’s (attempted?) development as a jump shooter. Check out Andy Greder’s for the Pioneer Press, and Kent Youngblood’s for the Star Tribune. Each story includes interesting quotes from a variety of basketball people weighing in on Ricky. I’ve made my feelings on the subject known in the past. I think his form has a fundamental (fatal?) flaw that needs fixing. But I really like the point made by Tim Legler in Greder’s piece that shooting cannot be an afterthought, and that it has to be something that is anticipated. One of the ways in which Ricky *looks* like a terrible shooter is in how he catches a pass, when he’s open, and has that prolonged “think about it” period that sometimes winds up into a slow, awkward-looking jumper. Maybe he just needs to watch Gerald Green tapes; Green traveled to Europe and the D-League and has somehow developed a quicker release than J.J. Redick coming off a screen. It seems to be working for him, as he’s a key scorer on a good team and playing the best ball of his career.

It’s part mental and part mechanics. But whatever the case, and whatever happens with Kevin Love this week, or next summer, or the summer after that, this team’s ceiling height depends largely on Rubio’s ability to become a star. And the obvious avenue to that destination is shooting improvement.

Enjoy the game tonight.

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