Wolves Defeat Kings, 108-97

Before we get into things I’m going to display a few photos. One of these pictures you might be familiar with, as i’ve used it in recent recaps, but the other is something new.

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Remember this? I determined that 7 of the 10 games following the all-star break were ‘winnable’ games by Wolves standards. Halfway through the stretch, Minnesota is 4-1 with victories over the Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, the lone defeat coming at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers. On Saturday, the Sacramento Kings became the latest victim of the Wolves recent success. (I’ll get to that other picture in a little while)

First Half

Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic returned to the starting lineup after each played missed notable amounts of time due to injury.

Pekovic left the game against the Chicago Bulls on January 27th and the Wolves went 7-7 during his absence. A short time after Pekovic was sidelined, on the 7th of February, Martin played 34 minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans but fractured a finger at some point during the game. The Wolves played 8 games missing both Martin and Pekovic, but emerged victorious in all but three of those outings.

Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Corey Brewer trotted out with Pekovic and Martin and matched up against Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins. Some could argue that the Kings victory over the Wolves in January, at the Target Center, was the worst loss for Minnesota this season.

So, call it the revenge game if you must. Martin got things going without any further ado, shooting six of seven from the field and scoring 14 first quarter points. Pekovic, playing on a minute limit, was replaced by Dante Cunningham after six minutes of playing time. Despite the outburst by Martin the Wolves trailed the Kings at the end of the opening quarter, 30-31, as Gay nearly matched “K-Mart (K-Target)” basket for basket — Gay scored 12 points in the 1st quarter on five of six shooting from the field. Pekovic found his rhythm in the 2nd quarter, but Gay didn’t skip a beat and the Wolves were outscored by the Kings and trailed at the half; 53-56. Here are some quick notes from the games’ first two quarters.

  • Pekovic and Martin — 29 points on 12 of 18 shooting
  • Love couldn’t get much going but found ways to contribute. He was an abysmal one of six shooting but scored nine points after converting on six of eight free-throw attempts. Love also helped keep the game close with four assists.
  • Rest of team — 15 points
  • Rudy Gay — 22 points 8 of 11 FG, 4 of 6 3PT FG, 2 of 2 FT. This is something that shouldn’t happen.

Second Half

The 3rd quarter was a ‘whole different ball game,’ as the cliche goes. After the game was over, Love and Adelman both mentioned – on the Fox Sports North broadcast – that the team rallied in the locker room to play with a sense of urgency after halftime. Whatever happened in the visiting locker room at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Saturday night should be repeated over and over again for the remainder of the season. The starters trotted out in surefire form and outscored the Kings 31-14 during the third frame. Rubio, who only had three assists by halftime, tallied five ‘dimes’ distributed among the other five Wolves players that scored in the third. However, the offense wasn’t flashy as we’ve known it to be — the Wolves went to the free-throw line 12 times, converting on 9 attempts, and forced the Kings into six turnovers.

The Wolves scored six fast break, and five second-chance, points. The Kings were limited to zero fast break points and didn’t shoot one FT during the third, the home team was beat in almost every aspect of the game on each possession. Things got interesting, as they usually do, during the 4th quarter and after entering the final 12 minutes with a 14 point lead — the score narrowed and fans watching at home began to worry, and had every right to do so. Four minutes went by and the Kings outscored the Wolves 14-6 in the short span.

Albeit his performance since returning from knee surgery has oft been criticized, Chase Budinger performed well in these four — crucial — minutes of the game. Budinger had two key rebounds (one offensive, one defensive) and four pivotal points while the starters rested and waited to get back into the game. Martin, Brewer, and Love entered the game at the 8:34 mark by replacing Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad, and Luc Mbah a Moute. J.J. Barea and Cunningham remained on the floor. The Wolves led by nine, 90-81, but the Kings push was imminent. It may have been close to a double-digit lead, but the game was not at all out of reach for Sacramento — the home crowd could sense it and tensions rose during the final minutes. — I’m not sure if Rick Adelman will continue going to Rubio to close out games, but he needs to start doing so — there’s been many, many calling for this to happen — because BareaBall isn’t always the answer. — The lead now down to eight, Rubio checked into the game for Barea with the score at 93-85.

After a string of hair-pulling events, the lead was narrowed down to two. The crowd was on their feet and a streaking Rudy Gay headed toward the basket for what seemed as if it would be a game-tying layup — he did everything but make the easy basket. Love grabbed the defensive rebound, Rubio brought the ball upcourt, dished it back to Love who missed a three-point attempt. Pekovic grabbed the offensive board and was fouled by Cousins. Pek made both free-throws and the lead was extended to four.

After a steal by Rubio, and some ball movement along the perimeter, Ricky fired a three from the right wing, with the shot clock winding down, that fell through the bottom of the net and the Wolves were in business. The dagger put the lead at eight with less than a minute remaining. The Wolves prevailed over the Kings, 108-97.

Here’s that other picture. 1620760_10202709983145019_561495350_n   Currently, Golden State, Phoenix, and Dallas are the teams rounding off the Western Conference Playoff spots. The Wolves, winners of 5 of their last 6, are five-and-a-half games out of the 8th seed in the West. The Warriors, Suns, Mavericks, and Grizzlies are all 2-2 in their previous four games. For the Wolves, albeit the door is slamming shut, have a chance to slide a proverbial foot over the threshold and into the postseason picture. Tonight, Minnesota is in Denver to face the depleted Nuggets, they’ll be 5-1 in games after All-Star Weekend with a victory.

Three Stars

  • Kevin Martin — 26 points on 9 of 16 shooting. Although only going 1 for 5 from three-point land, he converted seven of eight from the charity stripe. The free points were, and are always, important.
  • Nikola Pekovic — 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting. Pek recorded nearly 27 minutes of action and Adelman can be quoted, saying after the game, that he used the 295 pound center returning from injury — and still playing through pain — more than he would have liked.
  • Kevin Love — why not? 22 points on a horrible shooting night (4 of 12) but 12 of 14 from the FT line, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists.

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Minnesota Timberwolves 92 – Sacramento Kings 80

November 2, 2012. Associated Press – Jim Mone.

In the home and season opener for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the T-wolves knocked off an inferior Sacramento Kings team by a score of 92-80 for their first win of the 2012-13 season. Fans got to witness a completely different style of basketball and a revamped roster, led by newcomer Andrei Kirilenko and second-year Timberpup JJ Barea.

Left without team leaders Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio until approximately mid-December, the Pups were not as offensively competent as they will be at full strength. However, their matured team IQ was on full display against a very young and undeveloped Kings squad. For the Kings, there were flashes of great basketball, but also glimpses of absolute immaturity – as shown by Isaiah Thomas’ missed fast-break layup and Thomas Robinson’s double dribble.

The biggest difference in this game came down to foul trouble and team defense, as the Kings committed 34 fouls to the Wolves 17. Demarcus Cousins was especially hampered by foul trouble, as he was only able to play 25 minutes while scoring a mere 11 points.

The top performances of the night came from Andrei Kirilenko and JJ Barea. AK-47 put on a defensive clinic for all eyes to witness while having an extremely efficient night scoring. Kirilenko finished with the following stat line: 10 points (4-7 from the field), 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 1 block in 30 minutes of play. The addition by subtraction of trading Wes Johnson, combined with the addition of Kirilenko, made the Timberwolves wing play look like a much improved area, even with Derrick Williams and Chase Budinger having off-nights.

JJ Barea ultimately was the key to thoroughly manipulating the Kings team defense as JJ used his speed to find holes in the defense and got to the rim very effectively. The Puerto Rican was a game-high +26 on the floor and had what I believe to be his best game as a Pup. He finished with 21 points (6-11 from the field, 8-8 from the free-throw line), 5 assists, 4 rebounds and only 1 turnover in 27 minutes. It was performances like these in the 2010 playoffs that prompted the Wolves to sign Barea and I am sure they were very pleased by his performance of last night. It also helped that Barea’s matchup was one of the only other PGs in the league who is smaller than him (Isaiah Thomas, 5’9”).

Three-point shooting was a major concern last night, and following last night’s performance many of those same concerns were not alleviated. As a team, the Wolves shot a combined 2-17 (12%) from downtown and newcomers Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger – who are supposed to be big answers to the team’s shooting woes – went a combined 0-10 from three-point range. The fact that Minnesota shot so poorly and was able to win by a healthy margin appears to be a good problem to have, but after watching so many threes rattle off the rim last night it remains a little concerning. The loss of K-Love was obviously going to take a toll on the Wolves’ ability to shoot the long ball, but the Pups will need to have a few players step up and start knocking down some threes.

Brandon Roy played his first regular season NBA game since 2010 and had an efficient yet quiet night. Roy was most notable in his directing of the offense and his smooth passing. In 30 minutes, Roy finished with 10 points (4-14 shooting), 6 assists, 5 rebounds and only 1 turnover. He also drew a very clutch offensive foul on a driving Tyreke Evans with 3:45 left in the game, another display of the veteran savvy he brings to the end of games. Overall, I thought Roy had a decent game and if he can start knocking down more shots – particularly from three – we should have an above-average starting SG. It must be noted that it is very evident on the court that Roy’s foot speed and cutting ability are a shadow of his former abilities. However, Roy is smart enough and is an adequately capable passer and spot shooter, which should allow him to continue to be a very nice player in this league should his knees not fail him.

In his NBA debut, Alexey Shved struggled to gain any sort of rhythm and looked nervous and scared in front of all those Target Center fans. The skinny and lanky Russian import was indecisive and did not look confident with or without the ball, and it is clear that the nerves of his first NBA game were contributing to his obvious timidity on the court. I am not trying to bash the guy, because I sincerely believe that his abilities in the pick-and-roll are enough to potentially make him a very effective second option in this Adelman offense. However, it may take some time – and a weight and strength program – to get the Russian up to speed.

Nikola Pekovic had a relatively quiet night, and Sacramento’s frontcourt did a nice job defending the slimmed down center. In 32 minutes, Pek finished with 9 points (2-8 shooting), 5 rebounds and 1 block. Getting his Timberwolves debut was Greg Stiemsma, who played a very good game in Pek’s stead off the bench. Stiemsma brought hustle and tremendous defense and was everything that Darko could not be last night. In only 16 minutes, Stiemsma finished with 9 points (3-7 shooting), 7 rebounds and a very impressive 4 blocked shots. Now, the Steamer may not have a very pretty jump shot, but the energy and shot-blocking he brought was a huge difference maker and was something the Pups desperately lacked last season.

Alongside Stiemsma in the second unit frontcourt was new addition Dante Cunningham, who also provided tremendous defense on the low block. The thing I loved seeing the most out of Cunningham is his obvious understanding of his role and his knowing exactly where he fits with this team. Last year we had to put up with Anthony Tolliver hoisting up every three-pointer he could get his hands on, but Cunningham instead focuses on running set plays, setting screens, and taking shots only when adequately set up for him. It is not to make him appear timid, but to recognize that he understands the limitations of his game and instead focuses on his strengths. Cunningham finished with 7 points (3-6 shooting), 9 rebounds, and a +21 in 25 minutes.

The biggest off-nights came from Derrick Williams, Alexey Shved, Chase Budinger, and Luke Ridnour. While Ridnour did not play excessively poorly, it was more so that Barea greatly outplayed him and so limited the team’s starting PG to only 20 minutes. D-Will struggled mightily, scoring 8 points off a horrendous 3-12 shooting and failing to maintain body control on his drives and cuts. Williams needs to slow the game down for himself, and find a way to get quick separation in order to get more space on his shots. Budinger also shot 3-12 from the field including missing all 5 of his three-pointers, and will need to start draining the outside shot if he is to be particularly effective in this offense.

Overall, it was a nice win for our Pups and a solid start to a season when considering the absence of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. Here are my three stars of the game:

  1. JJ Barea
  2. Andrei Kirilenko
  3. Greg Stiemsma