What’s the difference between the T-Wolves and the Magic? While most people would like to say “Dwight Howard,” the biggest difference between the two teams lies in the Orlando Magic’s ability to rain from beyond the arc and the Timberwolves obvious struggles with anything outside of the lane. Losing their fourth straight game, the Timberpups fell in Orlando 102-89 in their sole matchup with the Magic during this shortened NBA season. Each Orlando starter scored in double figures and as a team the Magic shot 12-30 (40%) from three-point range, while the Timberwolves shot only 6-21 (28.6%).
The Wolves continued their slump into Monday night, playing lackadaisical defense and committing 18 turnovers as a team, contrary to Orlando’s 9. Despite being in foul trouble throughout most of the game, Dwight Howard was able to score 11 points and grab 7 rebounds while playing imposing defense in 26 minutes.
Minnesota was unable to set the pace tonight, getting behind big early in the first quarter and failing to gain control of the game at any point during the contest. Ricky Rubio had an up-and-down game, scoring 11 points and tallying 8 assists, however committing 5 turnovers. Rubio was able to penetrate into the lane early on, but Orlando dialed up the pressure and was able to slow the Pups’ defense by focusing on their sole distributor. Opponents have begun directing their defensive focus on Rubio and appear to be doing a good job of getting Tricky Ricky out of his rhythm, and it will be interesting to see the adjustments made by the Timberwolves in order to get Rubio clicking on all cylinders once again. The league leader in steals, Rubio failed to record a steal tonight, as the Magic dominated the steals 9-3.
In the battle of the NBA’s rebounding leaders, Kevin Love came out on top pulling down 15 rebounds compared to Superman’s 7. Love netted 19 points on 8-17 shooting, and he too had trouble getting comfortable due to the great interior defense brought on by the Magic. The Wolves rising big man, Nikola Pekovic, played very well and recorded yet another double-double, recording 16 points and 13 rebounds in 32 minutes of play. Big Pek was able to bang around down low on D-12, which not many centers can do. The emergence of Pek has been a huge addition for the Pups, whose need at center is now diminishing.
The T-Wolves sole glaring need lies at shooting guard, and the absence of Luke Ridnour, who missed the game due to personal reasons, did not do the Wolves any favors. Matched up against two very solid shooting guards in JJ Redick and Jason Richardson, Orlando exploited Minnesota’s platoon of Wes Johnson, JJ Barea, and Wayne Ellington. Not only did the Wolves’ shooting guards fail to bring the offensive punch, but Redick and Richardson were able to have their way offensively, facing very poor defense that posed a matchup nightmare in Orlando’s favor. The Pups would be lucky to have even one of the Magic’s shooting guards, and their ability to shoot from beyond the arc is undeniable.
The Timberwolves appear to have gotten away from what made them successful several weeks ago, again returning to committing thoughtless turnovers and making lazy passes being broadcasted from miles away. Michael Beasley is a prime contributor to the slowing down of the offense, as he catches passes and holds the ball in place for far too long on too many possessions. Beas rarely drives to the hoop anymore and continues to settle for contested mid-range jumpers. Super Cool Beas scored 13 points on 5-13 shooting, playing very lazy defense and displaying no fire on the court whatsoever. I love the skills that Beas possesses and he has already displayed his superstar potential in a few games this season, but his inability to put a consistent product on the floor on a nightly basis has come to define his career to date.
Another disappointment for the Wolves was Wes Johnson, who continues to struggle in nearly every respect this season, looking obviously unconfident on the floor. Wes scored 4 of his 6 points when the game was far out of reach and refuses to do anything on offense other than taking two dribbles to one side and pulling up for a mid-range jumper. Wes needs to develop other areas of his game because it just ain’t workin’ for him right now, and the disappearance of his three-point shot in one year is mind-boggling.
Derrick Williams had a decent game, recording 5 points and 6 rebounds and possessing a team best +/- of 0 in 15 minutes of play. With Beasley struggling, I think the Wolves need to turn to the more fast-paced player in D-Will and give Williams the minutes he deserves. The Wolves played some of their best basketball while Beasley was injured, and while I’m not suggesting there is a direct correlation between the two, it appears that the faster the team plays, the better they play. Williams brings more fire and, frankly, more desire to the team and maybe a small demotion for Beasley will help light a fire under him.
Key Player: Hedo Turkoglu-14 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds. The point-forward has returned to some of his former glory this season and does a great job directing the Magic offense. Turk hit a few key shots tonight, which kept the momentum in Orlando’s favor.
Key Stat: Timberwolves-18 turnovers, Orlando-9 turnovers. The turnover battle continues to be an area of struggle for the Pups, and they will need to start concentrating more on not broadcasting passes and being careless with the basketball.