Keep it simple, stupid.
It’s funny how basic professional basketball can be sometimes. You’re bigger and stronger than the opponent so you pound it inside and get easy points. You have a problem with turnovers so you just stay more patient and stop giving the ball to the other team. You’re facing the worst team in the league, start off slowly and just wait for them to regress to the mean.
This was the night against the Charlotte Bobcats. The Wolves look disinterested early on, giving up EASY baskets to Corey Maggette, Reggie Williams, and everybody else in the Charlotte unis. It was like the Wolves weren’t taking this game seriously at all. And maybe they weren’t. That’s what happens when you’re facing a team on a 15-game losing streak that happens to have a scoring margin of around -15 this season.
Minnesota gave up 30 points in the first quarter to a team that hadn’t reached 90 points in seven straight games. Not to take anything away from the Bobcats but I’m totally going to take everything away from the Bobcats here. They’re a horrible team that can’t score and the only way they have a 30-point first quarter is if you don’t take them seriously.
By the time the Wolves got around to caring, they were able to slow the momentum and scoring attack of the Bobcats while getting their own game on track. JJ Barea had his best game as a T’Pup so far with 12 points (4/9 shooting) and eight assists with zero turnovers. He controlled the pace of the game for the Wolves when he was on the floor without Ricky, which is something he hadn’t been able to show much at all this season.
Outside of the mean slapping Charlotte in the face, this game was won with the play of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.
After the game, Love was talking about how much the presence of Nikola Pekovic opens up Kevin’s game for him. And I’d imagine the same could be said the other way around. You’re not moving Pek when he’s getting position inside. I’ve been up close for almost every home game this season and I’ve watched player after player try to move him out of the spot he wants on the floor. It just doesn’t happen. Once he plants himself in the lane, you need a bulldozer to even think about displacing him.
The way to counteract that is to be in his way. Again, it sounds simple but if you’re already in the spot the post player wants then he has to wedge you out of there. If he tries to move you from the spot with his upper body, you’re going to see a lot of offensive fouls called (Dwight Howard does this a lot). The problem is if you’re in help defense because Kevin Love is on the floor, it’s really hard to beat Pek to sitting down in the key where you have no chance of stopping him from making his post move.
Love spreads the floor for Pek and in turn, Pek opens up the floor for Love. As a help defender, you know you have to keep a body on Pek so he can’t set up camp right in front of the basket for an easy hoop. This leaves Kevin with one-on-one coverage for much of the area between his man and the basket. Love mentioned that in situations like this he knows he has a great chance of getting off a good shot or getting to the free throw line. He credited a lot of that to the presence Pekovic has given the Wolves down low.
The symbiotic relationship the two big men seem to have on the court is developing into a deadly combination. Yes, they went against the Bobcats Wednesday night and you should be able to do whatever you want against the second worst defense in the NBA. They combined for 51 points and 29 rebounds against Charlotte’s frontcourt. The Wolves got 34 attempts at the rim (14 attempts by Pekovic) and shot 50.6% from the field for the entire game.
The Wolves didn’t have to do too much against a horrendous Bobcats team. They survived Kemba Walker’s streaky shooting, Boris Diaw’s versatility on offense, and whatever terrible shots Corey Maggette decided to put up throughout the game. Wes Johnson did a great job of forcing Maggette into bad and contested attempts after a good first quarter (4/8 in the first, 2/9 the rest of the game).
Wednesday night, the Wolves kept the gameplan and execution simple, and they let the talent on the floor naturally take over the game to win out.