Like Parquet Courts (or, now, Parkay Quarts), the Timberwolves seemed keen on counting down the days until it was time to head back. After a road trip that nearly totaled 3 weeks, they returned with a slew of injuries and sickness, with the absence of Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Ronny Turiaf to show for it (along with Thad Young, who remains with his family following the passing of his mother).
Even on a depleted roster, things can go right for a team when its most experienced plays well. Tonight, Mo Williams and Kevin Martin combined for 51 points on 19-29 shooting against a Knicks defense that seemed to take the Wolves’ recent history with the 3-point line a bit too seriously.
But even if they did, they probably weren’t going to stop Kevin Martin tonight, who eclipsed his personal best, knocking down 7 long ones in his 35 minutes of action. Martin, according to Flip Saunders, was close to staying home from tonight’s game.
“I got a text at about 3:30 in the morning, [with Martin] saying he was sick,” Saunders said. “By 8, he was feeling a bit better, came to shootaround and got an I.V. afterwords.”
It’s possible, Flip suggested, that the Wolves’ long road trip may have played into the sickness one way or another. It makes sense, too. Between the constant traveling, hotel and climate changes, the immune system can only take so much. Had Martin not gotten the chance to sleep in his own bed the night before, it’s entirely possible the Wolves’ leading scorer may have had an even tougher time making his way to the arena tonight.
Mo Williams, by all accounts, was completely healthy coming into tonight. Still, he needed a good game about as much as the Wolves did collectively. He had a nice game at Dallas, but hadn’t had consecutive good games since the opening pair of the season. He got most of his scoring, 10 of 14 points, out of the way in the first half, but evened out his 13 assists nicely throughout the game. Even on successful plays, you’d often see Williams coaching on the floor, playing the mentor role he talked about back on media day.
The play by these two opened up opportunities for the young guys, specifically Shabazz Muhammad, to play with more freely and make mistakes. As Saunders said after the game, Muhammad can sometimes end up in the wrong spot on the floor, and that did happen tonight.
But so far this year, his motor has made up for a lot of the mistakes he makes, and his strength often puts him in good position to score the basketball. His new-found leaping ability helps, too.
Wolves’ dunk of the year, so far?
For the most part, Muhammad played smart basketball tonight, which included a mostly on-point shot selection, and his always-aggressive style on the glass.
You could throw Andrew Wiggins’ first half into that pile as well. The Knicks showed signs of a comeback in a big part of Wiggins’ 2nd half stint, so when he came out and the new group rebuilt the lead, Wiggins stayed put on the bench. Before that, though, he was back to hitting a series of those stepback jumpers that have turned into his go-to NBA perimeter move. He also had a pair of plays at the rim where he would get a bit too overzealous at the top of his insane vertical.
He hasn’t finished any jaw-dropping dunks just yet, but they’re coming. For the most part, he’s great in traffic. It could be a matter of him needing to see the first one go in, even if it is as simple as a dunk.
One thing Martin and Williams can’t do, even on their best nights, is defend the interior, where Amare Stoudemire showed signs of years past in a 7-9 performance for 19 points. Eventually, the perimeter D, sans Rubio and Thad, stole the ball 15 times. They forced 8 Knicks turnovers in 9 possessions in a period of very ugly basketball that, more or less, gave Minnesota the win. They also outrebounded the Knicks, even with the absence of Pekovic and Turiaf, and the inclusion of Anthony Bennett as the team’s backup center.
Now that the Wolves are back in town for a while, they’ll have a chance to sleep in their own beds for the next week, (hopefully) start to heal up, and (hopefully) get back to a place where they can get back on the road with some confidence.
They’ll always be back in town, but this game requires travel. The good news: the worst, in that regard, is already behind them.