JJ Barea returned from injury Wednesday night and the Timberwolves knocked off the Detroit Pistons 93-85 for their second straight victory. The Timberwolves, 6-8, are off to their best start in five years displaying significant improvement. When you factor in all of the near wins against the great teams the Timberpups have faced thus far, the Pups very well could have a winning record at this point in the season.
The improvement in Minnesota’s defense is impossible to deny. Last season the Timberwolves’ defense ranked dead last in the NBA, giving up an average 107.7 points per game. So far this year, Minnesota’s defense is an astonishing 11th in the NBA giving up only 93.1 points per game. Clearly Rick Adelman has made defense a priority and the rapid improvement on the defensive end, despite the shortened season, has exposed ex-coach Kurt Rambis for his flawed defensive scheme and inability to motivate his players to play intense defense.
Tonight was the best overall game for the Pups this year and they displayed the best teamwork I have seen from a Timberwolves team since the KG era. They overcame a brutal shooting first half (30% from the field) in which they scored just 36 points, and were able to move the ball and create easy opportunities for each other in the second half.
Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio had yet another highlight-filled game and filled the stat sheet with 9 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, and a ridiculous 6 steals. His help defense and anticipation of passes lead a vastly improved team defense and he made the Target Center roar after a spectacular drive to the hoop where he spun the ball around his waist and finished at the hoop with his left hand.
Kevin Love was unable to record his fourth 30-point game in a row, but was still able to finish with 20 points and 17 rebounds, owning the offensive glass and working very hard on defense. Love had a team best +/- of +16 on the court tonight and his and Rubio’s leadership are helping to overcome the culture of losing that has been ever-present in Minnesota over the last several years.