Timberwolves 108, Nuggets 105: We’ve got (no) controversy

Zach Harper —  December 13, 2012 — 11 Comments

PekMeatGrinder

There should be pitchforks and torches headed toward #42 at the Target Center right now.

After “spouting off” in a national column that he assumed would include many of the positive things he allegedly said about the team, Kevin Love had a horrific night of basketball. The 3-of-17 from the field doesn’t really even begin to show the struggles Love had in this game against the Denver Nuggets. He got the shots you’d want him to get: spot-up jumpers, half hooks six feet from the basket against poor post defenders, basically everything he’s supposed to be good at.

The ball awkwardly came off his finger tips, often coming up short or looking like he was shooting the ball off of his wrist. His touch wasn’t there and he didn’t really know how to make up for it. He heard heckles from fans, although it was nothing to attempt to really write about. He was neutral about the things that were said to him, not giving in to prodding questions hoping for a sound byte. 

You could argue that Love made up for his poor game on the boards. After all, he did have 14 of them with five coming on the offensive end. But then you look at his defense for much of the first half and how he did little to stop Kenneth Faried and the rest of the Nuggets from shredding the Wolves in the paint. It wasn’t just his fault. Rotations were bad all around and there seemed to be a bit of rust or a slow step or just poor schematics for shutting off the paint from Denver’s cutters. Love certainly didn’t do much to alleviate the attack on the rim by his opponents.

The thing is… there isn’t any controversy from this bad game following a bad day of press. Mainly because Nikola Pekovic, JJ Barea, Dante Cunningham, Andrei Kirilenko, and Luke Ridnour wouldn’t allow there to be controversy. And that’s the fun thing about this Wolves team right now. They’re actually good enough to get past this stuff.

They had a couple things working in their favor. 1) They were coming off of four days of rest, which may have caused a bit of rust at first but it gave them fresh legs. 2) The Nuggets have spent the majority of this season on the road. This was their 17th road game of the season (Minnesota has played 19 games total) and the end of a five-game road trip. It makes sense that Denver didn’t quite have a 48-minute effort to give Wednesday night.

But that’s life in the NBA. The Wolves just kicked off a tough stretch of six games in nine nights and will have a trying stretch of basketball the rest of the month. Everybody goes through ups and downs of the NBA schedule and the Wolves are learning not to let those teams on the down parts of the grind off the hook.

Pek was the star of this game, even if the clouds of the Love comments were collecting overhead. You can look at the 22 points and 11 rebounds from Pekovic and marvel at his production. He was dominant on the offensive boards and went back to putting his assigned defenders back into the meat grinder that is his post game. He set up on the left block, dislodged the defender as he turned over his left shoulder, and buried jump hooks into the hoop. He came across the lane and hit his sweeping hook, and instead of bringing the ball down like he’s been doing, he kept it high and out of range for wandering helping hands.

But where Pek really starred in this game was defense in the second half. What used to drive me crazy two years ago when people would try to tell me that Darko was a good defender because he was blocking a lot of shots was he wasn’t a good defender at all. During that season, Darko was consistently late on defensive rotations. He couldn’t defend the pick-and-roll to save his life and he put poor effort into sliding over from the weak side. The thing about Darko that season was he guessed correctly in the post and around the rim a little over two times per game.

That’s not defense; that’s hitting on a 14 when the dealer is showing a face card. Sure, you might pull a seven but you’re probably going to end up having to pretend you’re still sitting down with your friends at the table until the waitress comes back with another “free drink.”

For much of this season, and especially last night, Pekovic has been rotating and playing defense without blocking a lot of shots. Pek had two blocks last night, pushing his season total to 16 in 17 games. The great thing about him is he’s not playing defense with his hands; he’s playing defense with his feet, like you’re supposed to do.

In the first half, the Nuggets were living at the rim. In the second half, they still scored points inside but a lot of it was stuff they had to work for. Pek was a big reason for that. His lateral movements from side-to-side have been spectacular. He’s making plays defensively you wouldn’t have imagined him making last season. It could be a better understanding of the NBA game or the defensive system. Maybe it’s the dropped weight and lighter feet. Whatever the reason is, Pekovic is acting as an anchor right now, even though he’s not blocking shots.

Sometimes getting in the way to muck things up is the best way to defend. And with the way the Wolves rebound the ball, it’s a lot easier to finish off defensive possessions when you get in the way and then secure an errant shot.

It helps set a tone for everybody else to fall into their roles; it doesn’t matter that your best player is missing shots.

I’d say that Love and Shved had bad games for the Wolves last night and that was it. Everybody else gave incredibly productive minutes when they were on the floor. Kirilenko continues to be absurdly opportunistic on defense and Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea look to have new life in how they’re playing. This team is probably getting Ricky Rubio back on Saturday and that will begin another adjustment period.

But there is a light at the end of this tunnel right now and it’s looking pretty bright.

Zach Harper

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11 responses to Timberwolves 108, Nuggets 105: We’ve got (no) controversy

  1. Under Rick Adelman the Wolves have upgraded both players and schemes, leading to an improved effort when Love doesn’t deliver.

    Here’s the Wolves record when Love plays 20+ minutes and scores under 10 points: ’09 1-12, ’10 0-3, ’11 1-3, ’12 2-0, ’13 2-0 via http://bkref.com/tiny/JIcE3

  2. With AK in the game it all seems to just flow better. And it was nice to see Shved directing the offense a little while he was out there. It’s getting to be really exciting waiting for Rubio to come back. It’s also nice to hear how good it’s going in practice with him. Can I really have hope? Is there something waiting for me around the corner to dash my dreams of a copitent winning wolves team? Oh please basketball gods let this be real. Don’t let us get our hopes up to only rip the rug from underneath us again.

  3. pagingstanleyroberts December 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Great post as usual. While reading tweets here and there (some from Zach) about how they shouldn’t have been close in the 1st half or leading at the half, I thought of how nice it was to play poorly and lead a perennial playoff team at the half. The other thing I thought was that their lead was partially due to them executing their philosophy: down 47-40 with less than 3 left in the half, they finally got into the penalty and just paraded to the foul line. If not for Gallinari’s 3 at the end, they would’ve finished the half on an 11-0 run in which they went 11/12 from the line.

  4. pagingstanleyroberts December 13, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    I also have a question: Is Shved really executing within the team’s sets? It seems like he’s most effective when he has the ball for most of the shot clock, and part of the reason he wasn’t in during the final minutes was because Luke and JJ are better at running sets. Sometimes, everyone can improvise with him, but they’ve got to reduce this habit of dominating the ball.

  5. You ALWAYS hit a 14 when a face card is showing. Take it from a dealer, don’t let this article fool you, you will lose less money hitting a 14 every time a 10 is showing then if you stay. GO WOLVES!

  6. Take it from another Karl, Karl- I don’t think he meant hitting on the 14 was the wrong play. Just that drawing a 7 rarely happens, so relying on a difficult block to bail you out of poor defensive position isn’t how you’re supposed to play defense.

    So maybe Darko dealt himself bad hands by being out of position and had to gamble, while Pek deals himself better hands by staying in position. Am I reaching here, Zach?

    Pek had a great game. Finally looked explosive around the rim, too. One other observation was that JJ’s game was a tale of two halves- took shots out of position and struggled to finish at the rim early on, but helped close out the game really well. He and Luke overachieved on defense in the second half by staying in front of Lawson, too. Really fun game to watch – it’s so refreshing to hang with a quality team when we’re not playing our best.

  7. Bingo, second Karl.

  8. Just a lot of good character guys. Something that has been missing from this team for many years. It’s fun to watch a team not full of individuals, but a bunch of individuals being a team. Good write up.

  9. There was some pretty horrendous defense played by our guys during long stretches last night. And, of course, periods of brilliance.

    I totally can’t wait to find out which team we actually have and what’s the norm. Because so far into this season, I’ll be damned if I can figure it out.

  10. I am so happy we don’t have to spend our time lamenting about Wes and Beas and Darko and Martell and Anthony Randolph trying to convince ourselves that they are going to magically start being dependable. It’s so refreshing to have a team full of gamers who play hard and execute well. We aren’t getting teased by a random 30 point performance in a 20 point loss. We finally get to talk about everyone stepping up consistently. Loving it! Go Timberpups!!!

  11. Huge reason why we won the game: good free throw shooting. It’s not surprising how often we get to the line, because we play physical and draw a lot of fouls, but we just need to make them. Last night we did. It really makes up for our unfortunately regular low 40s shooting percentages.

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