What a difference a change in the starting lineup makes. Making his first start of his career, Ricky Rubio efficiently ran the Timberwolves offense to defeat a good defensive opponent in New Orleans. 1-0 as a starter, Rubio had 12 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, and only 2 turnovers in an impressive 44 minutes of play. Showing veteran poise down the stretch, Rubio managed the offense with precision and played great defense, making very few mistakes and setting his teammates up with countless opportunities to score.
While Rubio played great, Kevin Love played better. Love scored 34 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in 42 minutes, breaking his shooting slump thanks to a 17 point third quarter. Love went an incredible 17-18 from the charity strike and played very smart basketball, drawing fouls in key parts of the 4th quarter to keep the Hornets from gaining the lead. What impressed me the most about Love tonight was his defense. As he has never been known as a particularly good defender, Love had 3 blocks and drew a key charge down the stretch. By moving his feet and anticipating moves, Love stayed with his man all night and his defense was one of the major reasons the Timberwolves pulled away with the victory.
The glaring need for a shooting guard was once again brought to light tonight as Marco Belinelli exploited the Pups for 20 points in what were mostly uncontested shots. With Rubio starting at PG, Ridnour was pushed to SG and he did a pretty nice job offensively. Although Ridnour is able to provide good offensive production at SG, he is a liability on defense. Standing at 6’2”, Belinelli (6’7”) was simply too big for him.
Wes Johnson had himself a decent game tonight despite falling silent in the second half. Scoring 9 points and grabbing 8 rebounds in 34 minutes of play, Wes showed some good things tonight and is getting very close to being a difference-maker in this offense. The question remains about when he will finally take that leap and become a great player that so many believed he would become when he was chosen with the 4th pick less than two years ago.
Darko looked dazed and confused once again tonight, not ready for passes and looking genuinely disinterested on the court. Darko is showing why so many teams and people have already written him off, and I am beginning to accept their position. While he can display his amazing potential at times and can make a believer out of any new watcher, his inconsistencies have come to define his entire career. While he is only 26, I think his flashes of brilliance may remain nothing but mere flashes of what could have been if someone with a true fire to succeed had his body and his talent. Basketball is beyond talent, and if it wasn’t Sebastian Telfair would be getting a max contract from a team.
While the Timberwolves came away with the victory, the game was far from pretty.
The Hornets, missing their only true offensive game changer in Eric Gordon, went a combined 8-16 from the free throw line and missed many open shots. Most notably, Chris Kaman went 0-10 from the field, not taking a shot beyond 15 feet. That’s hard to do. The Hornets outrebounded the Timberwolves 51-48, and Emeka Okafor was able to swat away offensive rebounds like one would a volleyball to the perimeter countless times providing second chance opportunities for the Hornets. The inability to properly box out Okafor was concerning, and it almost cost the Timberwolves a tally in the wins column.
Emeka Okafor was the key player tonight for the Hornets as he had 16 points and 14 rebounds, but was slowed down a lot after the first half, as well as the Hornets in general.
To give the Timberwolves credit, they played some pretty good defense tonight, particularly in the second half. In the first half, however, their transition defense was absolutely horrendous as the Hornets simply beat all of the Timberwolves players down the court for uncontested layups. The thing most frustrating about seeing the Timberwolves struggle on defense, particularly in transition, is that it all lies on their effort and will. They picked it up by games end and I believe they improved defensively as a team tonight.
Game changing moment: starting the second half, the Timberpups went on a 9-0 run, never giving up the lead from that point on. Surely the improvements in the second half this year can be attributed to coach Rick Adelman, and I truly believe coaching was a major key in tonight’s victory. Last season with Kurt Rambis, tonight’s outcome may have been different.
Key Stat: Minnesota 33-38 from the free throw line tonight. It was tremendous to watch improvement from the line, as it will be crucial for the team’s success in close games like tonight’s.