Fresh off four days of rest, the Minnesota Timberwolves fought off a late game charge by the Denver Nuggets and watched as Ty Lawson’s potential game-tying three-pointer roll off the rim, giving the Wolves a 103-100 win at home. Tonight’s win put the Timberpups at 10-9, which gives them their best record through the first 19 games since the 2006-07 season.
Timberwolves-Nuggets Game Notes
Despite receiving negative publicity for his recent comments regarding his future with the Timberwolves, Kevin Love was greeted with cheers after his name was announced tonight. However, Love had what was probably his worst of the season tonight as he shot an ice-cold 3-17 from the field and was noticeably outplayed by backup Dante Cunningham. Playing a relatively short 31 minutes, Love scored just 8 points while grabbing 14 rebounds, all the while committing 2 turnovers and 5 personal fouls. From the get-go K-Love looked out of rhythm, as he began the game 0-6 while his matchup of Kenneth Faried scored 14 of the Nuggets first 27 points.
Kenneth Faried established himself early and got the better of the matchup against Kevin Love in the first half. Faried, the all-time rebounding leader in NCAA history, lived up to his nickname of “Manimal” by dominating the boards and relentlessly creating second-chance opportunities for himself and his teammates. Although still an unpolished scorer, the second-year pro plays with such an evident fire that his teammates feed off of, and he has been a big reason why Denver has been so effective at running the floor this season.
Coming into tonight’s contest, the Timberwolves were averaging just 71% from the free throw line as a team. However, free throw shooting was not an issue for the Pups as the sank 30 freebies on an impressive 37 trips to the charity stripe, which was good for 81% as a team. On the opposite end, the Nuggets struggled with their free throw shooting and converted on only 14 of their 24 chances.
This game was a tale of two halves in the paint, as the Nuggets were seemingly unstoppable in the lane in the first half. The Wolves made excellent adjustments nearing the end of the first half and into the break, and were able to effectively gain inside position mainly behind Nikola Pekovic. With Love clearly having an off-game, Pek ultimately became the team’s top option on the low block and he responded very well. Facing a very strong defensive frontcourt, Pek established himself on the offensive glass and showed off his soft touch around the rim.
Due to a strong defensive effort, the Pups caused the Nuggets to turn the ball over 19 times compared to only 13 by Minnesota. The Wolves recorded 11 steals as a team and did an excellent job of anticipating passes and getting hands into passing lanes.
Malcolm Lee got the start at SG tonight, but left the game late in the second quarter due to a hyperextended right knee. Lee was not able to return, and his status is questionable for the remaining 5 games in the next 8 days. In his place, Alexey Shved may very likely become the team’s new starting SG.
Despite being the constant focal point of ongoing trade rumors, Derrick Williams has continued to play hard and provided 13 solid minutes. D-Will continues to get very spotty minutes but refuses to complain, and for that I applaud his professionalism. In his short span on the floor, Williams scored 6 points (2-6 FG) and grabbed 1 rebound.
It was a tough decision, but I left Dante Cunningham off of tonight’s Three Stars. Regardless, “DC Hustle” provided production on both ends of the floor on a night where K-Love could not buy a basket. In 23 minutes, Cunningham recorded 12 points (5-5 FG), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and only 1 turnover while bringing tremendous defense against Faried.
Three Stars of the Game
- Nikola Pekovic: As I mentioned earlier, Pek did a fantastic job of establishing inside postion and attacking the offensive glass. What a great insurance policy the Wolves have for when K-Love is off, as Nikola drained 7 of his 10 FG attempts including shooting 8-8 from the free throw line on his way to 22 points and 11 rebounds. Pek was a game-high +8 on the court and even provided 2 blocked shots and 2 assists.
- JJ Barea: With Ty Lawson on the other end, Barea did a much better job keeping his body in front of Lawson than did Luke Ridnour. JJ was at his best tonight, finding holes in the Nuggets defense and shooting efficiently around the rim. With the game on the line, Barea effectively managed the game and even sunk clutch free throws down the stretch. Our favorite Puerto Rican ended the night with 17 points (6-12 FG), 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and only 1 turnover in 27 minutes.
- Andrei Kirilenko: Last but not least, AK-47 was a vital part of Minnesota’s success on the offensive end tonight and even provided a transition dunk which proved to be the dagger with only seconds to play. Despite missing both of his three-point attempts, Nuggets defenders did not sag off on Kirilenko, making his shot-fakes even more effective. AK sank all 6 of his free throws and finished with 18 points (6-12 FG), 4 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 assists, 1 block and 3 turnovers in a game-high 36 minutes for the Pups.
Good win for the Wolves, and they are set to take on the Hornets in New Orleans beginning around 7PM on Friday night. Still no word on Ricky Rubio, but many rumors are indicating he will make his season debut on Saturday when the Pups take on Dallas at the Target Center.