If there is such a thing as a “gimme” in the National Basketball Association, the postseason hungry Timberwolves experienced just that in their faceoff in Charlotte last night, defeating the Bobcats 88-83. In a game ridden with missed opportunities for the Bobcats and a clear lack of a sense of urgency for the Wolves, Kevin Love continued his March mean streak and provided 45% of the teams scoring, as he netted 40 points while grabbing 19 rebounds. The NBA community is starting to view performances such as this as typical for the Timberwolves superstar, as this was K-Love’s third highest game point total in the month of March. Love completely outsmarted a foolish and youthful Bobcats team, using shot fakes to get his defender in the air while jumping into them and getting several and-1s. The level that Love is currently playing at offensively rivals the days of Kevin Garnett in his prime, and if he can improve on the defensive end, K-Love has a chance to make The Big Ticket an afterthought for Minnesota Timberwolves fans. The Wolves were without several offensive weapons last night as JJ Barea, Nikola Pekovic, and Michael Beasley were all sidelined due to injury.
The role that Luke Ridnour has played for this team this season is intangible. Ridnour, a locker room leader, has elevated his play to that of his days as a Seattle Supersonic, and has become a consistent double-digit assist man nearly every night. Tonight, Ridnour played sensationally and produced a stat line of 15 points, 14 assists, 5 rebounds, and only 2 turnovers in 43 minutes. What has been overlooked this season for Ridnour has been his defense, which I believe may be his greatest strength. Luke, now playing the role as a combo guard, has been asked to guard players from 5-10 (Squeaky Johnson) to 6-9 (Chandler Parsons), and has played his tail off while not getting exploited in size mismatches. Not to mention that he has been playing the last week or so with a strained groin and a sore leg, Pop-a-shot realizes his importance to the team with Ricky Rubio lost for the season and is displaying his tremendous character and toughness.
With JJ Barea out with yet another injury, Malcolm Lee assumed the backup point guard duties, although they were short lived. In the 5 minutes that Luke Ridnour was catching a breather, Lee really played some nice basketball. After being substituted into the game in the second quarter, Lee had to immediately call a time out in order to figure out what play the team was running, a sequence of events that left the entire Timberwolves team laughing on the bench. Lee, a SG at UCLA, has been asked by Coach Rick Adelman to share some of the PG duties due to the lack of backcourt depth on the team. He possesses good size (6’5” 200 lbs) and is a very good defender, like his UCLA buddies. After getting the play straightened out, Lee played some very impressive ball. Playing with good intensity and some obvious rookie jitters, Lee made three nice drives to the hoop with two of them ending in conversions, the other being an impressive up-and-under that nearly dropped. He also did a nice job running the point and was able to set his teammates up with several open looks, but with only one shot falling. Lee definitely looked like a rookie as he committed two quick fouls and was overly aggressive on defense, but that is what we love to see out of young guns like him. Rick Adelman has explained that the 21 year old has a chance to be a very nice player in this league, but what does Rick Adelman know about PG talent….?
The other rookie getting time tonight was Derrick Williams, who had a night to forget. Shooting 2-11 from the field, D-Will was unable to finish many drives to the hoop that we have become accustomed to seeing him finish. He looked very off on the offensive end and his shot was simply not falling. We will give D-Will a pass on this one, as the team was able to win and every player is going to have nights like this. The most important thing is how he will respond to the adversity of having tough games, but having seen the type of competitor that D-Will is, I have no doubts that he will only use his frustration as motivation in order to make himself a better player.
After one half, the Timberwolves trailed 47-45 despite being up by as many as 9 in the second quarter. The Wolves played to the level of their competition and got lazy on defense, using their hands instead of moving their feet on the defensive end. With Nikola Pekovic sidelined with bone spurs in his ankle and Darko in the doghouse, the need for a center has never been more blatant. Both teams shot 42% in the first half and the Wolves shot selection got progressively worse as the half went on. The big difference between the two teams in the first half was free throws, as the Wolves made 4-6 while the Bobcats nailed 11 of their 14 attempts. In the second half, the Bobcats shot poorly and played like the NBA-worst team that they are. Despite outrebounding the Wolves in the first half, the Pups finished with 50 team rebounds compared to the Bobcats 38. Charlotte reminds me of the Timberwolves roster from a few years back: although they possess some good talent to base their future around (Gerald Henderson, Bismack Biyombo), they simply have no idea how to win games. Whenever the game got close, the Bobcats did not know how to keep the game close or extend leads, generally taking bad shots and going silent on offense.
Outside of Kevin Love, the big story for the Pups these last few weeks has been the play of Anthony Tolliver, who notched a double-double last night with 11 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes of play. The thing that I love most about Tolliver is his mentality and attitude towards the game. AT is a winner and he is solely focused on making the team better, doing whatever he needs to do to help get Ws. Whether he was sitting on the bench for a month receiving countless DNP-CDs (did not play, coaches decision), he remained ready for his opportunity and has completely taken advantage of the minutes awarded to him. A coach like Rick Adelman recognizes a true winner when he sees one, and I would not be surprised is the Wolves do everything that they can to find more guys with winning mentalities like Tolliver when free agency hits.
Wesley Johnson and Martell Webster both experienced quiet nights, combining for 5-11 shooting while playing overall decent defense. With Love taking the scoring load, Minnesota has not required much production out of their wings. However, the team must not become too dependent on Love for points because the nights where Love does not have his shot, they are going to need other ways to produce offensively. I REALLY want to see something more out of Wes this next month, as it looks like his career is heading him towards being nothing more than a solid defender. Finally, Wayne Ellington had one of his worst nights, missing all 5 of his shots in 24 minutes.
- Key Player: Do I need to even say it? Kevin Love is averaging nearly 32 PPG in the month of March and tonight was somehow only his third highest scoring total in the month. He absolutely dominated the Bismack Attack and imposed himself on a lesser opponent.
- Key Stat: The Pups shot 8-21 from three-point range compared to only 3 Bobcats three-pointers. Surprisingly, in 43 minutes of play Luke Ridnour did not attempt one three-pointer
Photo Credits: nbadraft.net