Good to have you back, sir.
I’m still trying to parse my thoughts on his surprise return and what it means for the team. I think we’re in for some awkwardness over this road stretch. The Wolves will basically have one practice in between about four games. There isn’t a ton of opportunity to get Love and his teammates back on the same page and they’ll all have to re-learn what’s going on in the system. You know, assuming they can run their system. The Wolves are going to be a pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop heavy team until they’re closer to full strength. Love can thrive in this environment but how does everybody else manage to do it?
Kirilenko looked stagnant in the second half of the Nuggets game and the Wolves just can’t have that. He’s a smart player and he’ll quickly learn how work off of Love. But it’s probably more important he figures out how to have a two-man game with Nikola Pekovic while Love is drawing so much attention on the strong side of the ball. A quick reversel to Kirilenko in the high post should allow him enough space to get a quick pass to Pek when he has position.
Until Rubio comes back, we’re going to see a lot of forced offense by everybody on the floor. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing; it just means the games will be a bit harder on offense. The nice thing is the Wolves have enough talent this season to make it work, as long as the defensive effort keeps up.
For today’s 3-on-3, I’ve got a couple of great writers from the Blazers blog Portland Roundball Society. Danny Nowell and Sean Highkin joins us to discuss some Wolves-Blazers action happening tonight. Danny has helped out on the 3-on-3 for the Magic preview and is a new member of Portland society. Danny is also the biggest North Carolina basketball fan you’ll ever meet. You don’t want to watch a UNC game with him because he’ll threaten your life if the Tar Heels are losing. Sean also writes on Hardwood Paroxysm and is a fantastic source for Blazers analysis, along with analysis for the NBA in general. If you’re into the NBA and Soulja Boy, Sean is a must follow for you on Twitter.
By the way, Sean and I did a quick podcast for PRS to preview tonight game. You can listen to it here.
HIPSTER SOCIETY BATTLE, COMMENCE!
Danny Nowell, Portland Roundball Society: Unqualified yes on this one. So far this year, Batum has been Portland’s best player with a bullet, and his play in the clutch has been absolutely bonkers. He seems to have a strong understanding of what his own game is, and asserts himself at the perfect times. While I initially doubted his contract, he has been a joy to watch play so far.
Sean Highkin, Portland Roundball Society: I think so. He’s had issues at times with getting off to slow starts, but for the most part, he’s been spectacular this year. Terry Stotts’ offense is much more suited to his talents than Nate McMillan’s ever was. Stotts trusts him to make plays at both ends, and we’re seeing a much more confident Batum, one that attacks the rim more frequently and looks for his own offense rather than deferring. And his defense is finally starting to catch up to the reputation. I can’t say enough about how important Batum has been this year. I thought the offer sheet was a slight overpay when he signed it. Now it looks like it may be a steal.
Zach Harper, A Wolf Among Wolves: My take on the Batum contract situation was pretty positive. I saw a lot of things about his game and how he was misused with Nate McMillan to think he’d thrive in an offense like Rick Adelman’s. When the Blazers refused to let him go or do a sign-and-trade, I was pretty disappointed the Wolves weren’t going to give him a chance to shine. Terry Stotts taking over in Portland isn’t Rick Adelman taking over, but he’s taken away the shackles Batum endured under McMillan. Who knows if he’ll keep up this kind of pace for the entire season, but he’s certainly a lot better under Stotts than he showed with McMillan.
2. A few days ago, Kevin Love surprised everybody and came back a couple weeks early. Love and LaMarcus Aldridge seem to trade off having big games against each other. What do you expect for this matchup tonight?
Nowell: Have you seen LaMarcus lately? Snooze. Off the top of my head, I’m not sure we’ve seen one game of sustained aggression from Aldridge, so even though he’s been intermittently effective, it’s been a disappointing season from him. All that said, he’s known to get up for the matchups he relishes, and I imagine he’ll be taking it to Love before the latter is in full game shape.
Highkin: You’d think LMA would have the advantage here as Love tries to readjust to his new teammates after missing the first month of the season. But Love had 34 and 14 on Wednesday, so I guess the hand must be feeling okay. I’m expecting Love to own this matchup on the boards, both because he’s a better rebounder than pretty much anyone and because Aldridge has always rebounded poorly for a power forward. Offensively, Aldridge has been relying almost exclusively on his midrange jumper this season, so if that’s falling, he could still have a big night. If JJ Hickson spends any time on Love, that’s a nightmare for the Blazers.
Harper: This matchup is far from the Kenneth Faried matchup Love had the other night. Faried is energetic, rambunctious, and constantly throwing himself into the fray on the boards. He makes a lot of mistakes but he also makes a lot of plays because he seems to be a big fan of trial and error. LaMarcus Aldridge is the opposite matchup. LMA is big, brooding, and constantly looking for physical advantages that don’t rely on athleticism. Aldridge is measured and tactical. He doesn’t make many mistakes and Love will have to capitalize when he does. Love should dominate the boards but can he defend Aldridge? I think both players will have a big game.
3. So… um… about Brandon Roy… 🙁
Nowell: Eh, look: at this point in the cycle, I’m not up for any more faux despair. Roy was my first favorite NBA player, the guy who—even though I was living in North Carolina at the time—set the hoops hook I first took during the Pistons’ 2004 championship run. But knees happen, and Roy has had a chance to fight that reality on his own terms. It’s a bummer, to be sure, but after 10,000 eulogies for the star guard, I can no longer be exercised about bodily inevitability.
Highkin: I knew this would happen. People were delusional if they thought his knees would hold up. I said that from the day he signed with the Wolves. Roy is one of my favorite players of all time, and I’ve never been more unhappy to be proven right about something, but this was inevitable.
Harper: Roy knew what he was getting himself into by coming back. As we learned in the movie Girl Next Door, you have to find out if the juice is worth the squeeze. For Roy, I think this will end up being worth the squeeze to him. It doesn’t mean he’s going to have success when/if he comes back. It just means he’s going to satisfy the question of “what if” that I’m sure has been slapping him in the face since he “had to retire.” If Roy is satisfied with the comeback attempt, it doesn’t matter how we view it. I hope for his sake, the juice ends up being worth the squeeze.
Place: Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon
Time: 9pm Central Time
Viewing and listening pleasure: FS North tonight and you can listen to it on 830 WCCO.
Records: Wolves are 5-5 and Blazers are 5-6.
I feel really good about this team, even with the loss the other night. I’m going with five full Love hands for the confidence meter today. I don’t expect Love to go around throwing up 34 and 14 performances as he gets back into shape and re-acquaints himself with his teammates. But the team is putting a top 15, possibly top 10 guy in the NBA back into the lineup about two weeks sooner than most of us expected them to.
I’m digging what this team has shown us and where they’re heading. Just need Rubio and Chase back now.