The Minnesota Timberwolves extended their dominance over the state of Texas and won the season series against the Houston Rockets 3-1, defeating them in Houston 111-98. With Friday night’s win, the Timberwolves have now won the season series against San Antonio, Dallas, and now Houston. Leading the way for the Timberpups was their bruising frontcourt of Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love, who, for the first time in Timberwolves history, both recorded 30 points and 10 rebounds. The Rockets simply had no answer for the pair, and they were imposing against a normally good defensive Rockets squad.
Nikola Pekovic set his career high for points in a game with 30 on 13-20 shooting, meanwhile grabbing 12 rebounds, 9 of which were offensive. Matched up against a very good defender in Samuel Dalembert, Pek completely dominated on the low post, getting great inside position and using his brute strength to power his way to the hoop. Disregarding Jeremy Lin, Nikola Pekovic has been the biggest surprise of the NBA this season, and is quickly becoming one of the best young centers in the game. Unlike Darko, Pek has a bevy of post moves on the low block and has very soft touch. Pek is also very good at running the floor and functions very well in transition. Alongside Love, Minnesota now boasts arguably the best rebounding frontcourt in the NBA.
In his first matchup with Luis Scola since “Stompgate,” Kevin Love exploded for 33 points on 11-16 shooting and snagged 17 rebounds. K-Love had a great game defensively and held Scola to just 10 points on 5-13 shooting, in a game that Scola wishes he could have back. Together Love and Pekovic scored 63 points and grabbed 29 rebounds.
While the Pups’ frontcourt received most of the attention on Friday night, Ricky Rubio enjoyed a very nice game, tying his season high of 18 points. Tricky Ricky also recorded 9 dimes, most notably on a ridiculous blind behind the back pass that found Love right under the hoop for an easy layup. The success of running the offense through the post has taken some pressure off of Ricky and it has made the Timberwolves as a team less dependent on Rubio as the means to running the offense successfully.
Head coach Rick Adelman went with only 8 players tonight, choosing to go with a smaller rotation and giving big minutes to each of the starters. The bench players that got time included Martell Webster (19 minutes), Michael Beasley (19 minutes), and Derrick Williams (10 minutes). In total, the three players scored only 12 points and did not make a big impact in the game. Webster played solid defense and made few mistakes, while Beasley played poor defense and looked out of place on multiple possessions. With the presence of both Beasley and D-Will, the two seem to simply take minutes away from each other due to the redundancy of the way they play. It appears inevitable that one of the two players will not be on the Wolves for much longer, and Wolves management will have to be smart about deciding which player stays and which player leaves.
One pleasant surprise that came from Friday’s victory was the play of Wes Johnson, who possessed the highest +/- of any player, with a +23. In 29 minutes, Wes played his role to perfection, recording 9 points on 4-6 shooting, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks, not turning the ball over once. Wes looked confident and played great defense, and he needs to focus on how to be able to consistently play well on a nightly basis.
Not available due to the birth of his first child, JJ Barea was absent from the Wolves bench on Friday night. Instead, Luke Ridnour saw extended minutes, playing 40 minutes and recorded 9 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds. On defense, Ridnour was matched up against 6’10” Chandler Parsons, and Luke was yet again able to play Parsons well despite the enormous height disadvantage.
Key Stat: The Timberwolves outrebounded the Rockets 44-26 tonight, owning the glass mainly due to the performances of Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love.
Key Player: Nikola Pekovic had his best game of his career and continues to dominate since receiving significant minutes. Darko has become merely an afterthought for the Pups at the center position, and Pek is beginning to receive national attention for his impressive play.