Timberwolves 90, Magic 75: St. Elmo's Fire
There are plenty of word that could be used to describe this Orlando Magic team, but I think I’ve settled on rudderless. After losing their noon, their midnight, their talk, their song, their Dwight Howard, this team was a question mark, but now playing without Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson or Al Harrington, it’s just a complete mystery where offense will come from. They’ve been reduced to Aaron Afflalo kickouts and J.J. Redick curls and the result tonight was a team that shot 35%, plus 25% from distance.
I wish I could say it was never even close. But although the Wolves started hot, jumping out to a 15 point lead and holding it to double digits almost through a quarter and a half, their focus eventually slackened and the shots stopped dropping. Orlando pulled closer, then the Wolves pushed back, then Orlando pulled to within 5 with 2:01 remaining on a Redick 3-pointer. But then, impressively, the Wolves seemed to decide they’d had enough, eventually pushing the lead to 27 before settling for a solid 15-point win.
As Zach said in his preview, this was an eminently winnable game and they won it, bringing them to 3-1 for the season and delivering what can firmly be called a hot start to a season that was supposed to be a slog without Love and Rubio. As far as what this game means as a game, I think that’s plenty.
So let’s look at three things that were interesting about the way the Wolves played.
Upside Down Guards
Adelman’s been running J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved as his backcourt for the second unit, and although nominally that makes them the point guard and the shooting guard, their instincts push them in counterintuitive directions. The diminutive Barea is the scorer, the penetrator, while Shved primarily looks to create for others. Tonight, that pattern didn’t hold true for the bench with Shved notching 3 assists and 7 points while Barea—very strangely—got 5 dimes and only 1 point.
But now it looks as if the starters might be working in much the same way. Roy continues to struggle with his shot, going 1-6 for just 3 points but putting up 9 assists while his backcourt partner—and nominal point guard—Luke Ridnour scored a team high 19 points with 3 assists. Adelman seems content to let these units find their way on the floor, and maybe this is just something that happened tonight, with Roy and Ridnour taking what was in front of them. But if it becomes a way to build the offense’s identity, it could be fascinating.
Pekovic: A Man in Motion, All He Needs Is a Pair of Wheels
Right from their first game against Sacramento, Ben Polk was perplexed why Pekovic wasn’t being used in more pick and rolls rather than catching the ball in the post. Although Pek’s post game has improved since last season and he’s able to do more with his newfound lateral quickness, it still seemed an odd choice for a player who often thrived moving towards the basket on the break or in the pick and roll last season. But tonight, what Adelman called a broken play led to Pek catching the ball on the move. The play was actually a pick and roll designed for Pek, but when Williams couldn’t get him the ball on the initial action, he posted up then stepped across the lane and Ridnour caught him directly under the basket for a layup. He caught another dish from Ridnour in transition for a dunk, then worked free in a pick and roll for another on the move. Rather than setting up on the block and waiting for the ball to come to him, he managed to get the ball while he was moving, and 290 pounds of massive Montenegrin is pretty hard to stop in those cases. If this is a permanent development in the offensive scheme, it’s a great one.
Stiemsma: Destroyer of Worlds
When the Wolves picked up Greg Stiemsma, the reactions ranged from mild interest to active disinterest. Although he was a blocks machine in Boston last season (averaging 4 per 36 minutes), that was about all he was viewed as being good for. But lo and behold tonight he scored 12 points on a super-efficient 6-7 shooting, good for 1.5 points per possession. And though he put up only 2 blocks and 5 rebounds, he was like a supermassive black hole in the best possible way in the late third and fourth when he scored 8 straight points for Minnesota. He was active, setting screens and hitting hook shots and jumpers, closing out on shooters, and doing all the little stuff. When a guy who’s just supposed to provide one dimension off the bench can suddenly become the heart of the team out on the floor, that’s a recipe for success for a team that’s not only learning how to play without their stars, but how to play with each other period.