On Wednesday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves faced off at home against the Washington Wizards in a battle of two lottery-bound teams. The Wizards and Timberwolves entered the game with 19 and 20 wins, respectively, despite beginning the season with aspirations for a postseason berth. Washington was without rising rookie Bradley Beal, who injured his ankle after a nasty fall in Washington’s recent win over the 76ers. Beal narrowly escaped with only a sprained ankle, and will likely be out for up to another week.
Unsurprisingly, Minnesota was also without two of their starters in Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic as both have been ravaged by a myriad of small injuries since the All-Star break. Mickael Gelabale and Greg Stiemsma started in their places in what was sure to be a snoozefest for the devoted fans who continue to occupy the graveyard atmosphere that the Target Center has once again become.
The matchup of Ricky Rubio and John Wall was sure to be a captivating one at that, with the first overall pick of the 2009 draft versus the fifth overall pick from the same draft. With both players standing at 6-foot-4, the game featured a matchup of two of the tallest point guards in the NBA despite having very skill sets. Wall, not known for his shooting, started off the game by knocking down several mid-range jumpers that are considered one of his weaknesses. Rubio started the game sagging off Wall by a step or two in order to take away his elite ability to get to the rim, and the former Kentucky standout responded by showing off an uncharacteristic soft touch from 16-18 feet. With the Wizards leading 29-24 after the first quarter, Wall had hit all 4 of his field goal attempts. Rubio held his own as he recorded 6 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds in the opening period.
The Wolves did a much better job on the defensive end in the second quarter as the tandem of Dante Cunningham and Chris Johnson provided strong interior defense. Johnson, who has received sporadic minutes since Rick Adelman returned from missed time, was pure energy and hustle during his minutes in the first half. The long and skinny Johnson pushed the tempo beating the defense down the court and converted all three of his field goal attempts. Although Johnson is mainly receiving minutes due to the absence of Pekovic from the lineup, he continues to produce in the minutes he receives and is consistently the first Pup down the court on offense and the first player back on defense.
Leading 48-43 after the first half behind 51% shooting. The two teams sparred in the third quarter as neither club was able to get hot shooting the ball or creating opportunities in the half-court offense. The Wolves headed into the final quarter of play with a 65-63 lead.
One of the highlights of the fourth quarter came from Luke Ridnour in an uncharacteristic display of frustration with the officiating as he chucked the ball down the court following a no-call on a drive. Washington shot ahead to a 73-65 lead and it began to appear as if the Wolves were headed towards another fourth-quarter collapse. However, our Catalan leader put together another near quadruple-double and JJ Barea knocked down some key looks and the Wolves ended their losing streak, winning 87-82.
Martell Webster, after being cut by Minnesota before the season, entered the game with the second-best three-point shooting percentage in the NBA. Ironically, the Wolves are currently the worst three-point shooting team in the league. Starting for the Wizards at Small Forward, Webster logged 41 minutes of playing time despite only knocking down 2 of his 8 long-range attempts.
Derrick Williams put up a respectable line of 16 points and 8 rebounds, but shot just 4-12 from the field and struggled mightily after a strong first quarter.
Trevor Ariza continued his strong play of late as he recorded 16 points (4-10 FG, 3-7 3PT), 7 rebounds and 6 assists in 38 minutes. Ariza was acquired by the Wizards along with Emeka Okafor last summer in hopes of boosting Washington into playoff contention.
Keys of the Game:
- Turnovers - Washington shot themselves in the foot time and time again and they committed 24 turnovers to only 14 by Minnesota.
- Personal Fouls - As if the game was not made sloppy enough by all of Washington’s turnovers, they committed an absurd 29 personal fouls and essentially handed Minnesota the game in the final period of play.
Three Stars of the Game:
- Ricky Rubio - This selection is a no-brainer. For the second time since the All-Star break, Ricky legitimately flirted with the mystic quadruple-double as he finished the night with 15 points (4-15 FG), 11 assists, 7 rebounds and 6 steals in 38 minutes. Although he had another tough game shooting the ball, Tricky Ricky provided for the Wolves in so many different ways on both ends of the floor and willed the team to victory.
- John Wall - Wall showed a lot of improvement in his game especially in his ability to knock down the mid-range jumper. As tremendous of a player as Wall is, there still remains many areas in which he will need to master if he is to become the superstar that he was predicted to be when he was selected with the first pick. Wall finished the night with 19 points (7-15 FG), 7 assists, 3 steals and 6 turnovers in 39 minutes.
- JJ Barea - JJ came up big in the fourth quarter and was one of the only Wolves who could make a shot in the second half. He held his own on defense despite having enormous size disadvantages in his matchups and was able to provide 12 points in 23 minutes off of the bench.