With their backs against the wall, the Minnesota Timberwolves needed one more loss to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention heading into a fierce road matchup against a tough Nuggets squad. It did not take long for hopeful Timberpups fans to see the season officially lost, when in the first quarter Kevin Love lay motionless on the ground for close to five minutes after taking an unintentional elbow to the temple from the beastly JaVale McGee. When he was finally helped to his feet by trainers, K-Love appeared disoriented and out of his senses, and today it was confirmed that Minnesota’s star suffered a mild concussion and a strained neck. He had only played 8 minutes in the game before being taken to the hospital for evaluations, and he was not able to accompany his teammates on the ride home last night for tonight’s home matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite a gutsy second half comeback in which the Pups erased a 24 point third quarter deficit to tie the game in the late fourth quarter, the decimated Wolves roster lacked the very game-closing abilities that both Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio possess, and they were eventually knocked by a score of 113-107.
Seeing an extended role due to K-Love’s injury was Anthony Randolph, who has seen very spotty minutes this season. The 22 year old Louisiana State product scored a season high 28 points on 11-16 shooting and grabbed 6 rebounds while swatting an impressive 5 shots. A major need for the Pups all season long has been shot-blocking, and AR-15 provided just that last night. The story of Randolph’s career to date has been characterized by unfulfilled potential. A lottery pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, Randolph fell out of favor with coaches Don Nelson and Mike D’Antoni and was acquired last season in the blockbuster Carmelo Anthony trade which shipped Corey Brewer to the Nuggets and brought AR-15 to the land of 10,000 lakes. At last season’s end, Randolph showed off his abilities with K-Love injured for the final stretch of games and recorded multiple 20-10 performances. However, his lack of concentration and “passion” for the game has caused him to fall out of favor with Timberwolves Head Coach Rick Adelman, as he apparently does not trust him on the court. With Love sure to miss multiple games due to his concussion, AR-15 has a chance to prove to the team why he is worthy of being resigned this summer, or for simply an opportunity to audition for other teams. No one has ever denied his potential, but his inability to completely commit himself to the game is definitely a buyer’s beware.
Derrick Williams provided good offense off of the bench last night, and he tied his career-high of 27 points on 10-20 shooting, including 3-9 from beyond the arc. The absence of Love allowed D-Will to take a lot of shots he is not used to getting, and although out of control at times, he had a nice night. Williams showed some very nice drives from the wing and looked as much like our future SF as he ever has. His jumper was definitely on, but he also looked more comfortable dribbling in the open court. Because of his size (6’8”) D-Will has tremendous difficulty guarding NBA PFs and Cs, and he is much better suited to man the 3. However, he looked like a rookie at many times tonight and committed 5 turnovers in his 38 minutes of play.
Martell Webster and Wes Johnson both had solid performances last night and helped to fuel the second half comeback. Johnson’s shot was absolutely on, as he nailed 5 of his 8 shot attempts, most of which were contested or fade-aways. The problem with Wes has been that if his shot is not on as it was last night, he does not change his offensive approach in able to have success scoring the ball. He is completely dependant on nailing long, contested looks in order to contribute points, and his offensive approach is often selfish and contradictory to the offense as a whole. Wes needs to begin to drive into the lane and look for high percentage looks, and if the defense collapses on him he needs to kick out to the open man on the perimeter. He remains stuck in his development as a player, and he needs to harness his aggression and find it within himself to attack the rim and use his prototypical SF body to get to the basket and force his defenders to give him an extra foot or two on the wing. What Wes has improved on this season has been his defense, and he had two nice blocks and played good man defense throughout the game. Starting at SG, Webster scored 12 points and possessed a team-high +10 in 32 minutes of play.
Nikola Pekovic was noticeably bothered by his injured ankle, and despite scoring 12 points and having success against Denver’s frontcourt, he was only able to play 19 minutes. At PG, JJ Barea tallied a career-high 15 assits and scored 12 points, but he turned the ball over 4 times and was -11 on the court. Barea was exploited on the defensive end due to his size and he remains a liability against bigger, stronger PGs like Andre Miller and Ty Lawson.
The Pups played a horrendous first half and were tossed around in the paint, giving very little effort on the boards and continually not blocking out Nuggets players. There was too much pouting from Wolves players after missed shots or missed calls which in turn led to easy transition buckets for Denver. The help side defense was virtually nonexistent in the first half and the T-Wolves were lazy while rotating on defense. However, they really picked up the pace in the second half and avoided an ugly beat down that looked inevitable after one half of play. The production from the bench was a large contributor to the comeback, but unfortunately with the team missing both of it’s leaders, it is going to be awfully hard for this squad to close out games on the road against playoff-caliber teams like Denver.
- Key Player: Kenneth Faried took advantage of the lack of hustle by Minnesota to notch his second consecutive double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds. Faried is not the sexiest player, but he does whatever he can to help his team win and brings a fire to the court that few players have.
- Key Stat: 0 points for the healthy Michael Beasley, who played soft and lazy in his 10 minutes on the court, and he appears destined to be wearing a different team’s jersey next season.
Photo Credits: Chris Schneider – AP