Make it Wayne! The Timberpups returned home Monday night and overcame a sloppy first half to beat a raw Sacramento Kings team by 13. Leading the way for the Pups were Kevin Love and Luke “pop-a-shot” Ridnour, leading the team with a combined +/- of +42. Love recorded his 13th double-double of the season with 33 points and 11 rebounds, overcoming an early technical foul and questionable officiating towards him all night. Ridnour topped off a fabulous night with 25 points on 10-14 shooting, including 4-4 from three and a season high 9 assists. His shooting has been nothing short of excellent this year and he continues to play well at SG with Ricky Rubio on the floor.
In what felt like an off night for Rubio, the Spaniard scored 9 points going 3-10 from the field, tallying 8 assists and pulling down 8 rebounds. You know you are pretty darn good when you nearly record a triple-double on an off night.
The X factor for the Pups was young Wayne Ellington, perfectly filling the SG void that the team so desperately needs. He scored 15 points on 6-10 shooting including 3-5 from three. Not only was Wayne hitting his open looks, but he was also very active on the defensive end. Wayne hit a few very clutch, contested shots that were key to Minnesota down the stretch. Despite winning by 13, the game was neck and neck with only a few minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
Nikola Pekovic played a very nice game, once again taking most of Darko’s minutes after yet another atrocious game by the Serbian. Darko played only 15 minutes for his second game in a row, despite starting both games. He took and missed one shot all night, a wide-open layup that he attempted and failed to finger-roll in. The most sickening part of the play was that Darko could have very easily dunked the ball, but chose not to and instead missed an uncontested look. Plays like that are unacceptable at this level and it is truly a reflection of Darko’s absolute lack of basketball intelligence.
Although it was a nice win for the Pups, the fact is that Sacramento is not a very good team. They possess many young, gifted players much like the Timberwolves do, but the Kings are not playing very good basketball at this point in the season. Coming off a game where they scored only 60 points in Dallas, the Kings were the first team in some time to get outrebounded by the Timberwolves. No one player scored over 12 points, and All Star Tyreke Evans struggled, shooting 3-11 from the field and scoring just 9 points in 39 minutes. Former college sensation Jimmer Fredette made his Minnesota debut tonight and also struggled, missing all three of his three point attempts.
It seems like Wes Johnson’s best games this season have been when he is statistically at his worst, as he looked decent tonight but shot 3-11 from the field and scored only 6 points in 34 minutes. His biggest improvements tonight were not turning the ball over once, and playing very impressive defense against some very good offensive guards in Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, and Jimmer Fredette. Wes also did something tonight that he has not oft-done in his short NBA career: driving to the basket. Wes struggled shooting from behind the arc, and he responded in the second half by attacking the hoop and driving hard through the lane. I hope it wasn’t a one-time thing, because I absolutely loved watching a player of his athleticism and ability driving for high percentage shots. I do not even care that he missed a good amount of shots because his head was in the right place tonight. He unleashed himself and his lack of stats does not reflect the way he played.
The Timberwolves once again had trouble switching on screens, often leaving one man wide-open for uncontested shots. Until the second half, the Timberwolves rebounding was terrible and the Kings got many of their first half points on second and even third chance opportunities. During the first half, the Pups were so cold they could not buy a shot, but they adjusted very well in the second half and got a much-needed victory. I attribute much of the second half improvements to coach Rick Adelman, as the Pups obviously made proper adjustments to their game plan that proved too much for the Kings.
Key Stat: The Timberwolves finally won the rebounding battle tonight, outrebounding the Kings 38-37. Although their boxing out and rebounding in the first half were very poor, they came back in the second half and really got after it.
Key Player: Wayne Ellington played SG to perfection tonight, hitting shots for the Timberwolves that they have not been getting out of Wes Johnson. Wayne looked cool and confident on the court and I really love watching him succeed. If Wayne can continue to grow and build on this performance his future in Minnesota looks very bright.