Our favorite Montenegrin continued to produce in a big way for the Timberwolves, playing 34 minutes off of the bench in a Kevin Love-esque performance. While Timberpups.com can neither confirm nor deny recent rumors around the Twin Cities that GM David Kahn is saving the ‘Designated Player’ option for Pekovic, not Ricky Rubio, it was nice to see Pek build off of his strong play of late.
It’s a shame that this game wasn’t broadcasted in Minnesota, as the Wolves played well as a team and once again pulled through in the final minutes of a close game. As mentioned, Pekovic led the Pups to victory, scoring 27 points and pulling down 11 rebounds (7 offensive) in 34 minutes. He made 11 of his 14 shot attempts and 5 of 6 from the free throw stripe. The Nets had no answer for Pek’s size as he continues to have his way in the post. Taking a page from Kevin Love’s book, the center scored on numerous put-back buckets, a few times getting in the way of Love who was fighting for the same rebound.
Rick Adelman’s distribution of minutes has been puzzling at times, and tonight was no difference. As stated here before, with no true offseason it was to be expected that time on the court would be constantly evolving, especially early in the season. Darko started the game – his only shift – and logged a total of 8 minutes. If this game doesn’t lead to Pekovic in the starting lineup, I don’t know what will.
After giving the Pups some nice minutes in the past few games, Martell Webster played only 3 minutes in this match. Other players absent from the majority of this game were Wayne Ellington (7 minutes), Derrick Williams (6 minutes), and Anthony Tolliver (6 minutes). Tolliver will struggle to get time moving forward, as getting Williams on the court will likely be more of a priority.
One last note on playing time – Anthony Randolph was a healthy scratch for the second game in a row. With 15 roster spots, 13 players can dress for each game. Brad Miller and JJ Barea returning from injuries has forced Rick Adelman to deactivate Randolph. How long will this last? I love the veteran presence that Miller brings, and he probably has to be active for the Wolves to keep him happy. It will be interesting to see what the impending demotion of Darko to the bench will lead to.
And now for some game notes:
- The Nets got out to a quick start, with Ricky Rubio fouling Anthony Morrow on a 3 pointer 40 seconds into the game. The 6-5 shooting guard had one of the best games of his young career, racking up 42 points on 65% shooting from the field. The Wolves were tripped up on defense against Morrow all night – whether is was his shooting delivery or someone trying to close out too aggressively – and they sent the 93% free throw shooter to the line 8 times. Worst of all, the 3rd year player was fouled behind the arc 3 times (making one of the three shots), which helped the shooter to get off to an easy start.
- Darko and Wesley Johnson were subbed for with 3:53 left in the 1st quarter. The substitution would mark the end of the game for Darko, and gave Johnson some much needed rest after another rough start. Beasley did a nice job after entering the game, scoring 7 straight at the end of the first quarter. He continued to find better shots, getting to the hoop at will against smaller defenders.
- Speaking of Beasley, I read an article by a local writer that was quite critical of the forwards play recently. While his concerns are easily justified by Beasley’s past, I don’t see much reason for criticism since his return from an injury that kept him sidelined for 11 games. Yeah, the guy is going to huck up some shots that will make you queasy, but Super Cool Beas has been productive off the bench and hasn’t shown any visible frustration in his new role. I thought he did a nice job off the bench tonight, keeping the Wolves in the game with 10 points (4-7 shooting), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and only one turnover in a little over 12 minutes. Beasley only played 3:30 minutes in the second half, more a reflection of the play by Pekovic and Love than anything else. I definitely don’t travel with the team, in fact, I watch games half a day late from half-way around the world, but that’s just my take.
- It was nice to see JJ Barea at point, leading the second team and giving the starters some rest in the first half. The second unit held its own, even extending the lead at times. Barea looks better with each game that passes and will provide Adelman the flexibility to put some interesting rotations together in relief of the starting 5.
- As mentioned before, Darko did not play after his one shift starting the game, allowing Pekovic to start the second half. After a tough first half, Adelman stuck with Wes Johnson and was rewarded with a few nice flashes from the guard/forward. In one sequence, Wes scored 7 out of 10 points for the Pups, including a nice alley-oop after running the floor with Rubio, a three from the top of the key, and an and-one play after using a pump fake beyond the arc to get to the hoop. Adelman seemed to reward his play by keeping Johnson in during the final minutes of a yet to be decided game. More on Wes in a minute…
- Nets coach Avery Johnson almost lead his team to victory after directing guard Keith Bogans to foul Luke Ridnour with 25.7 seconds left in the game. The Wolves were up 3, and the Net’s could have hoped for a defensive stop, which would have left around 4-5 seconds and a chance to tie the game. Instead, Ridnour made both free throws, and with the Wolves up 5, Wesley Johnson did the worst thing he could have possibly done by fouling Anthony Morrow while shooting a three. Morrow ended up making the three and the following free throw, which slashed the Pups lead to 1. With the score (and time) on their side, all the Wolves had to do was inbound and protect the ball, which they did until Barea was fouled with 18.2 seconds left.
- The rest of the game played out predictably – Barea made both free throws, New Jersey got an easy dunk, and Ridnour made two free throws. With 10.2 seconds left and one last chance to tie, Deron Williams drove the lane and attempted to kick out to Morrow. Fortunately, Rubio was all over it, ending the game with his 6th steal of the night.
- Next up: The Rockets, who we seem to play every other game. It will be the last matchup against The Ostrich (Kevin McHale) this year, and would be a fitting way to get back to .500 on the season. It’s been a while since the Wolves were .500 in February (yes, yes, I know, it’s a shortened season. I’ll take what I can get).