7:57, Patrick J: Pekovic starts the 2nd half. My Rambis doll is safe for now.
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A Serbian Nightmare (Wolves 108, NETS 105)
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Love-Griffin I (Wolves 101, CLIPPERS 98)
Darko Milicic opened this contest with a jump hook that gave his Wolves a 2-0 lead over the Clips. (Darko played great the whole contest, by the way.) But this lead would be the only one the Wolves enjoyed until Kevin Love sank an open 28-footer as the buzzer sounded. Narrowly edging out his friend and rival, Blake Griffin, Love capped a rather-amazing comeback for his team on a night when baskets were all-too-difficult to come by. Ricky Rubio in particular (1-11 FGM-A, 9 points) couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn and looked as rattled as we have seen him in an NBA uniform. But as everyone noted after the game, his competitive fire never waned and his playmaking and free-throw shooting were crucial to the victory. Immediately before Love’s heroics, Ricky tied the game with a corner trey. After missing all ten of his field goals to that point, he didn’t hesitate for a second in taking and making the big shot. For all of his struggles, Rubio was a (+2) for the game; the only starter in the positives.
But enough about Rubio for now. This game was built up by the talking heads as a matchup of the league’s best power forwards–LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki may have things to say about this, but whatever, we’re going with it–who thrive even though they could hardly differ more in terms of their length and athleticism. In the early going, Blake struggled to score against his bigger defender, Darko. He resorted to jump shots, clanking almost every time. As the game progressed, Blake showed some smarts, challenging Darko with spin moves and up fakes. He finished the game with a respectable 21 & 11, but his 5 turnovers were excessive and his missed pair of free throws with a minute to go (Darko fouled out respectably, corralling Blake to prevent the basket and putting the lid on his most-productive performance of the year – 22 points and 7 rebounds) proved to be fatal. Love had an equally-mediocre game by his own high standards, until of course, the buzzer-beating dagger. He shot 5-16 from the floor, but grinded out a 17-point, 14-rebound, 3-assist, and 0-turnover stat sheet. I would call the individual matchup (even though they didn’t guard one another, we’re calling this a matchup) a wash, except that Blake choked at the line, and Love was the hero in the end. Love wins this one.
Look at the box score, and you’ll notice that the bench has the big pluses in the +/- column. Derrick Williams in particular stands out, as he chipped in 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in only 14 minutes of action. The Wolves were a whopping (+17) in that short bit of time while D-Thrill was wreaking havoc. He showed off the move I’ve been clamoring for more of: that 15-17 foot jab step dribble drive. Amar’e and Bosh use that all the time and Williams has that type of athleticism and dribbling ability. He did it in college and it worked for him tonight and I hope to see more of this in the future. Given that the Wolves are searching for offensive proficiency in Michael Beasley’s absence, I have been disappointed to see Williams’ minutes cut.
Wayne Ellington continues to bury jumpers at a nice rate (6-9 FG; 1-2 3PT). Wellington comes off a pick and fires like Rex Chapman or Eddie House. Is this a sustainable way to produce? Maybe; maybe not. But as a limited reserve, there are worse things than a quality chucker. Thirteen games in, Wayne’s field goal percentage is up from his career average (41.8 percent career; 46.3 percent this season). Some of that is attributable to Rubio setting him up better than Flynn (ya think?) or Ridnour could in seasons past.
Anthony Tolliver didn’t play his best game, and here’s why: he forgot what his role is. I think Hubie Brown (who was awesome, by the way–who doesn’t like color commentary in the second-person?) pointed this out, but Tolliver needs to shoot the ball when he’s open. (So does Wes Johnson, but I’ve given up hope, there.) Tolliver has seemed to understand his role in the offense better than most players and has hit huge treys off of Rubio dimes. In this game, he put it on the floor too much and, as often happens for him, he turned the ball over. A player of this type should not have 3 turnovers in an entire game’s work, let alone 19 minutes. He was the only bench player in the minus column, with a (-4).
The elephant in the room is that the Clippers were without Chris Paul (and Caron Butler, but Gomes did just fine replacing Tuff Juice). Chauncey Billups thinks it’s 2004 and this is a problem for Lob City. As Mo Williams showed the world last night (25 points), he is actually a good basketball player. Billups relies almost exclusively on trying to draw fouls and doesn’t pose the same threat that he used to as a playmaker. When Williams was ejected (two separate technical fouls, almost-definitely swung the game’s outcome) Billups put on his hero cape and came up short with turnovers and missed shots. In my opinion, the Clippers would benefit from ditching Billups and running with Paul and Williams for the bulk of minutes, and some Randy Foye mixed in as a change-of-pace reserve.
Oh, DeAndre Jordan. It was almost comical watching the little Wolves trying to shoot over this guy. Ridnour hit a floater that must have gone 15 feet in the air, and DJ damn-near got a hand on it at its peak. Jordan is worthless offensively, but his defensive impact is obvious on a single viewing. In case you forgot how bad Kevin McHale was at drafting players, he passed on Jordan with the 31st (Pekovic) and 34th (Mario Chalmers, traded to Heat) picks in the 2008 Draft. Can you imagine walking away from that draft with Kevin Love and DeAndre Jordan? I digress.
Looking Ahead (a few hours)
Wolves travel to Salt Lake tonight where they’ll face a seemingly-improved Jazz team (9-5, but against a relatively-easy schedule so far) led by an old favorite of my own, Al Jefferson. Big Al is leading the Jazz in points (18.3) and rebounds (9.2) per game, but is hardly the focal point that he once was on some terrible Wolves teams. EnergySolutions Arena (the Delta Center was so much easier to say) is a tough place to leave victorious. The Jazz rested last night and the Wolves will have their hands full. In the interest of getting way ahead of ourselves, if the Wolves want that eighth playoff spot in the West, Utah would probably be the team they’d displace.
Season Record: 7-8
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Playing to the Competition (WOLVES 93, Pistons 85)
15,598 people attended tonight’s matchup between the Timberwolves and Pistons, and most of them brought the same level of enthusiasm as the Wolves’ players. That is to say the arena had the feel of a tennis match as Tayshawn Prince destroyed Wes Johnson (and anyone else who tried to stop him) and Wolf jumpers continuously clanked off the rim, the backboard, or both.
The saving grace tonight for the good guys was just how inept Detroit has become. Despite a hot shooting night from Prince (13-23, 3-5 3PT, 29 points) and a (relatively) efficient night from Ben Gordon (7-15, 18 points) Detroit made enough mistakes and missed enough free throws to lose to Minnesota on a REALLY cold night. The Wolves shot just 30-75 from the floor (40.0 percent) and that number must have been even lower at halftime, when they trailed 42-36. I overheard somebody in the concession line remark that “it’s okay; you only need to play one quarter to beat the Pistons.” That was proven correct in this game. The Wolves ratcheted up the defensive pressure in the 4th Quarter (WINNING TIME) and buried Detroit with a 29-14 quarter point.
This really wasn’t the most interesting of contests, even for the die-hard NBA fan. With that in mind, and with a weekend double-header on the way (Clippers on Friday (CP3 may not play–hamstring), Jazz on Saturday) I’ll bring this one home with a few brief notes and let readers add anything they see fit in the comments:
* Detroit lost this game at the free-throw line. They shot 10-21 (47.6 percent) and a respectable 15 or 16 makes would have SERIOUSLY pressured the Wolves comeback effort.
* Ricky missed everything tonight–EXCEPT the coolest layup I’ve seen all year. He drove left, whirled the ball around his back and finished as the defenders’ heads were spinning. He shot 1 for 8, yet impacted the game with filthy dime after dime down the stretch. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but the winding kick-out to Wellington on the wing for a trey stuck out as an uber-important basket. This bucket extended the lead to 7 (88-81) with 4:22 to go and was the moment that the game felt in hand.
* Oh, and Ricky was getting his hands on every loose ball and rebound opportunity, too. This type of game is what optimists expected as his upside. (9 points on 8 shots; 7 rebounds; 8 assists; 6 steals). His impact was second to Love’s in securing this win.
* Love had 20 and 17. Ho. Hum.
* Derrick Williams, I continue to believe, needs to aggressively drive from that 15-feet, square-up position. When he does it without hesitation, he looks like Amar’e Stoudemire. Too many times, he looks more like Wes Johnson, shuffling his feet and wondering how best to not do something productive. Come on D-THRILL! He’s good, just give him time.
* No matter what you might think, or what you’ve been led to believe, the team is not benefitting from Michael Beasley’s absence. They’ve managed to beat some bad teams (Wizards, Hornets sans Gordon, Kings, Pistons) and have lost to the Raptors, Bulls, and Hawks. If Beasley’s shooting regresses to the mean of his career, he’s a player this team could use. That isn’t to say he’s perfect, great, or even “good.” Just that he possesses a skill set that no other Wolf comes close to. That may change over time with Derrick Williams, but he isn’t anywhere near as polished as Mike is at collecting baskets against real defense. Combine Rubio’s passing with Love’s foul-drawing and then add in Mike’s shot creating–that has the feel of a legitimately-good team. Not just one that eeks out scrappy wins against dog shit competition.
Season Record: 6-8
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On the Rebound (Wolves 93, WIZARDS 72)
The Wolves came back from a pair of lackluster home losses against Memphis and Cleveland to beat the Washington Wizards 93-72 Sunday afternoon in D.C. in the first tilt of a back-to-back-to-back on the road.
Today’s win felt great, mostly because Friday’s loss felt so bad. But before we get carried away with blowout euphoria, let us remember that the Wiz are truly awful. As a DC area resident, I can assure you that the ‘Zards really are that bad and that it’s no mistake the Wiz are 0-8. The Flip Saunders offenses Wolves fans grew accustomed to are nowhere to be found these days at the Verizon Center. The Wiz stand around a lot and eventually do some kind of iso for one of the Three Stooges–Andray Blatche, Nick Young, and Jordan Crawford. For variety, they’ll sometimes indulge Rashard Lewis’ itchy trigger finger and let him take a heat check from the three, which he’s currently shooting at a smelly 22%.
There are bright spots. John Wall could be Westbrook or Rose on another team – hell, in 2009/10 Wall excelled in Rose’s role for John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats team, the year after Rose was the uber-athletic one-year rental who drove Cal’s Memphis muscle car all the way to the NCAA championship game – and JaVale McGee is leading the L in blocked shots and is DeAndre Jordan East. But the Stooges and Lewis drag down the ‘Zards like a rusty anchor and there’s no hope for the ‘Zards unless Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld overhaul the roster and give Wall a fresh start with a new cast of characters. (Hey! You know what? Wolves POBO David Kahn just did this in Mpls! And we just blew out the Wizards. Leonsis should poach him for a Wiz redemption project!)
We’ll do a full wrap after the three-game set, but a few Wolves notes on the Wiz game:
- Rubio outplayed Wall en route to 13pts/14 ast/+29 in 30 minutes. What the 5-14 in the box score fails to reflect is that Ricky knows when to shoot, and that he shoots it in rhythm/with confidence. It took Rondo–whose rep as a weak shooter has led defenses to sag off him like they do on Rubio–2-3 years to get as comfortable calling his own number as Ricky is right now. Can you believe we got this guy for Mike Miller and Randy Foy?
- Beasley was out and the offense ran better. But again, it was the Wiz. So, correlation or causation?
- Williams/Tolliver/Love is my favorite front line. They outwork everybody, they’re strong, and they’re physical. They play D. On offense, they all know how to exploit seams in the D and swing the ball to open shooters or make 3s themselves. I hope Adelman gives them more time together, with Rubio and Barea in the backcourt, once J.J. gets healthy.
- Ellington made shots. With Beasley out at least three games I wanted Adelman to start Rubio or Williams, so I was pretty bummed when I heard Ellington was getting promoted. But he played okay today and we won.
We’ll get to test the experiment again tomorrow night against the Raps. Until then.
Season Record: 3-5
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