Somehow, some way, the Minnesota Timberwolves continue to win games. Following yesterdays news that SF Chase Budinger suffered a lateral torn meniscus in his left knee, the Wolves suffered yet another key injury in the third quarter of tonight’s matchup in Dallas as Nikola Pekovic suffered a sprained left ankle in the third quarter and was unable to return. On top of that, JJ Barea and Brandon Roy were unavailable tonight with day-to-day injuries, and Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will be missed until approximately mid-December. Despite all of the adversity, the Timberpups gave a gutsy performance and went on to take one from the Dallas Mavericks on the road, winning by a score of 90-82.
Before leaving the game in the mid-third quarter with a sprained left ankle, Nikola Pekovic was the focus of Minnesota’s offense as he scored 20 points (8-13 FG) while racking up 6 boards and posting a game-high +21 on the floor. Pek made mincemeat out of the defense brought by Dallas centers Chris Kaman, Brandan Wright, and Bernard James, and used a bevvy of post moves to near perfection. He has elevated his post game to a superior level of intelligence and proficiency, and although he stated that his ankle is fine and that he should be ready for Wednesday’s matchup against Charlotte, the thought of losing Pek for any amount of time remains very concerning.
As the Timberwolves were once again without second unit PG Barea, Luke Ridnour was called upon to be a major part of the offense – and he answered effectively. Ridnour did not play his best game, but he did enough on both sides of the court to get the better end of a tough matchup against Darren Collison. Ridnour finished the game with 12 points (3-9 FG, 2-5 3PFG), 7 assists, 5 rebounds, and an impressive 4 steals in 37 minutes of play.
The chemistry between Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko was extremely evident tonight, as both players were crucial to tonight’s victory. Shved, coming off the bench as one of the Pups primary reserve players, was vital in the fourth quarter due to his defense and playmaking abilities on the offensive end. Shved reminded me a lot of Rubio tonight, as he scored 16 points on just 3-12 shooting, but was able to effectively change the flow of the game with an intangible presence that seemed to guide the team during crunch time. He was very smart with the ball and dished out 5 assists to pair with 4 rebounds, 3 blocks, and only 2 turnovers in 33 minutes of action. The Toni Kukoc look-alike got it done at the free throw line as he sunk 9 of his 11 attempts, and did a very good job attacking the rim and not settling for poor looks. I cannot say enough about Shved and I dream of the day that we are able to witness him paired in the backcourt with Ricky.
What can I say about AK-47 that I do not say about him every time I write a game summary. The thing that astounds me about Kirilenko is his consistency on a game-by-game basis. It seems as if he ends with the same stat line every night, and his presence is felt on almost every possession that he is in the game for. The defense that he brings coupled with his poise and veteran acumen on offense has effectively guided this team to where they are now. Although he is a forward, he has been the “quarterback” for the Timberwolves and continuously creates opportunities for his teammates to be successful. At 31, AK-47 is as wise as he ever was and is as physically nimble and elegant as during even his best years for the Jazz. If MVP was to be voted on right now, I truly believe that Kirilenko would get votes. Now that is saying something.
Before tonight, Dallas was previously averaging 116 points per game on their home floor. However, things did not go as swimmingly against the T-wolves as they combined to shoot a miserable 29-80 as a team from the field. Minnesota played tough, scrappy defense as a unit, but were not the reason behind Dallas’ 4-16 from three-point range. The Mavs missed far too many wide-open looks in a game that was well within reach, and they were unable to gain any momentum when the Wolves continued to do them favors following Pekovic’s injury.
Dante Cunningham continues to bring the Wolves a much needed lift off the bench and posted another solid line of 14 points (6-9 FG), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and a mere 1 turnover in an efficient 33 minutes for the Pups. Cunningham has thrived in his role in the offense and continues to knock down top of the key and mid-range jumpers off the pick-and-roll. He looks extremely comfortable with what is being asked of him and continues to build on his previous performances. Although his game is not the sexiest, it is of intangible value to the Pups.
With Cunningham thriving, Derrick Williams appears to be in Rick Adelman’s doghouse. Despite starting tonight, D-Will logged only 12 minutes and attempted only 2 FG in that short span of time. His only points of the night came on a spectacular first-quarter reverse slam that wowed the Dallas crowd, and I believed that it would be enough to loosen up the former number-2 pick to have a decent ballgame. However, Williams made a few mental mistakes and looked lost on defense, and Adelman held very little patience for the Arizona product. With Cunningham playing well, Williams saw very little time beyond the first half.
With Williams struggling, it opened the door for Lou Amundson to see his highest single-game minutes as a Pup. In 15 minutes, Amundson worked his tail off defending the much bigger and stronger Kaman, and I am pleased with what he was able to provide in relief. Although he failed to score a point, Amundson grabbed 3 rebounds and was a +3 on the floor.
Malcolm Lee made his first start of the season and logged 22 minutes, scoring 4 points on 2-6 shooting while grabbing 3 rebounds. Lee made a game-securing steal on OJ Mayo at the end of the game, but was otherwise a neutral force in this one. I do like what Lee has shown thus far in his career, and I do believe that he is competent enough defensively to have a future as a serviceable backup combo guard.
Finally, Greg Stiemsma and Will Conroy each received very limited time on the floor tonight. Stiemsma, who has been very effective thus far, committed 4 fouls in only 8 minutes and was left out of the rotation for the second half. Conroy made a single free throw in 4 minutes and was otherwise a non-contributor.
When breaking down the team numbers, the Wolves were able to outrebound the Mavericks 49-35, and much of it was due to the outhustling of the Mavs frontcourt by the Pups bigs. Although shot-blocking was a tremendous need for Minnesota last season, it has been a major plus this year and the Wolves out-blocked Dallas 7-2. All of this was vital for Minnesota, and was enough to overcome the Wolves 17 turnovers compared to only 8 for Dallas.
More will be known on the extent of Pekovic’s injury tomorrow, and he will most likely be questionable heading into Wednesday nights home matchup against Charlotte. All in all, great win for the Pups. Get well soon, Wolves nation. Here are tonight’s three stars of the game.
- Andrei Kirilenko
- Luke Ridnour
- Alexey Shved