Another game, another big night for Gorgui Dieng. Coming into Wednesday night’s game against Atlanta, the Timberwolves’ rookie first-round pick had previously notched double-doubles in four of the past five contests while demonstrating significant improvement from his earlier play this season. Provided with a big opportunity in front of him given the continued absences of Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf, Dieng has really hit his stride over the past week and a half and has started to attract national attention due to his impressive work on both ends of the floor. The tandem of Dieng and Kevin Love made mincemeat of an Atlanta frontcourt lacking depth and Minnesota went on to outscore the Hawks 42-28 in the paint, ultimately defeating them 107-83 in what was essentially a meaningless game to Minnesota’s place in the final standings.
The Wolves, 35-35, are currently locked in at the tenth spot in the Western Conference with a very unrealistic chance at gaining a playoff berth. Currently, the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns are tied for the final playoff spot in the West as both sit at 43-29, each seven games ahead of Minnesota with just twelve games to play for the Wolves. And while the playoffs are a pipe dream, the Wolves are almost guaranteed to keep their top-13 protected draft pick that they traded to the Suns in the same move that shipped Wesley Johnson out of town. Not the worst consolation when considering that the 2014 draft is considered by many to be one of the top drafts over the past decade.
On Wednesday night, the Wolves took complete control of the game in the second half after leading by a relatively modest seven points at halftime. Corey Brewer led the team with 12 points at the break with 2 of his baskets coming as buzzer-beaters to end each of the first two quarters.
In the first quarter, Ricky Rubio was forced to leave the game after taking an elbow to the upper lip which required 15 stitches before he was able to return to the game. However, he was able to overcome a bum lip and a tough shooting night to effectively contribute, tallying 10 assists while swiping 6 steals in 31 minutes.
No player was more notable than Dieng for the Wolves. The former national champion out of Louisville scored 15 points on 6-8 shooting while grabbing 15 rebounds in the process. Playing a game-high 41 minutes, it is clear that Wolves head coach Rick Adelman has gained a good comfort level with his rookie in the middle, and why shouldn’t he have? Gorgui has been on an absolute tear and Jim Peterson said it best when he exclaimed during the game broadcast, “Gorgui alone is worth the price of admission.”
While Wolves fans have been getting their happy fill of Dieng, one Wolves rookie has had a tougher time carving out a consistent role in Adelman’s rotation. On a night where Dieng posted 41 minutes of run, Shabazz Muhammad found himself on the floor for a mere 4 minutes despite hitting his only field goal attempt – a three-pointer – while notching 1 assist to boot. With the future cloudy for fellow rookie Robbie Hummel as he can be let go with no implications to the cap after this season, he quietly had a nice night for Minnesota as he scored 9 points (3-6 FG, 2-3 3pt) with a +10 on the floor.
Chase Budinger, another guy that Minnesota fans would like to see hit a groove to end the season, enjoyed a very nice performance off the bench as he recorded 14 points (5-8 FG, 2-5 3pt) and 7 rebounds in 22 minutes. After nearly being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies at the trade deadline, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Chase heading into a big summer of decisions for the Wolves.
Minnesota will host the Los Angeles Lakers this Friday night at the Target Center at 7:00 CT.
Three Stars of the Game
- Gorgui Dieng
- Chase Budinger
- Ricky Rubio