Minnesota responded to one of their worst outings of the year (which also included Kevin Love publicly bashing two of his teammates--justifiably so) by thrashing the Big Al-led Charlotte Bobcats that have now lost 7 of their last 8 games.
While this win is important and it's GREAT, it's important to remember that the Wolves were facing a sub .500 team that is on quite the recent skid. Most want to glorify it as 'we beat the 7th-best defense in the NBA', but it's quite clear that this Bobcats team that allowed Minnesota to shoot almost 55% from the field and score 119 points (68 of them by halftime) is not the same defensive squad that was playing some pretty good basketball earlier in the season.
So...while this win is great and much-needed, you've got to keep it in perspective and realize that these are the games you have to win. When the Wolves take down the Thunder, Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Heat, Pacers, etc. Those are the kinds of games where I'm going to get really excited.
All that being said, it was certainly a fun game to watch. The matchup of the night (for me) was pegged as Nikola Peković vs. Al Jefferson. Two big men that will ultimately go down as some of the best in Timberwolves franchise history. However, in tonight's battle is was undoubtedly Pek that came out as the victor. Al Jefferson got going early with 8 points in the first quarter and it seems as though he was well on his way to another big game against his former squad (remember when Pek was out last year and Greg Stiemsma had to guard Jefferson and Big Al subsequently went off for 40+). However, that was not the case! Those 8 points are all the damage he'd do in this one as the Wolves held him scoreless for the final 36 minutes (though he barely played in that fourth quarter). Pek on the other hand played 27 minutes and finished with 26 points on 71% shooting from the field as well as 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. I definitely liked Jefferson during his time in Minnesota and was sad to see him traded to Utah (for just two 1st rounders & Kosta Koufos), however that trade (and Darko's intense desire to give <10% effort in games) led to Nikola Peković's emergence as the Wolves' starting center. During Pek's time in Minnesota he's become not only my favorite Timberwolf of all-time, but also my favorite current NBA player!
While Minnesota's starters had little trouble scoring at will against the Bobcats, it was the balanced attack that we saw that really gets me excited about the next few weeks for these Wolves.
For the first time since March 3, 2012 Rick Adelman had a completely healthy roster at his disposal. As a result of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute returning from a groin injury that shelved him for 3 games, Robbie Hummel was inactive as was Shabazz Muhammad (currently on a D-League assignment).
Everyone who was in uniform saw playing time AND everyone who played scored at least one basket. The best part about the game (beyond the starters' offensive dominance) was at long last a look at the second unit the way it was constructed. We finally saw J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, Chase Budinger, Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf take the court. The result was resounding success. With Chase on the floor and Shved playing MUCH, MUCH better, J.J. wasn't forced into the role of trying to do it all. Dante looked like he did a season ago--hitting open mid-range jumpers and playing his high-energy, hustle basketball alongside Ronny Turiaf who exudes an infectious energetic spirit whether he's on the court turning away big men at the rim, throwing the hammer down on a putback, setting a bone-shaking screen or him on the sidelines dancing after another Love triple. With the way Turiaf plays and the way he carries himself on and off the court, you can't help but love him.
One of Minnesota's big problems has been the significant drop off when Adelman turns to his bench. It was so bad early in the season that Adelman knew he could no longer make 'wholesale' substitutions (in which no starter was on the floor) and instead began mixing his starting five with his underperforming reserves. We'll still see some of that for the remainder of the season, but there's no doubt that the return of Chase & Ronny has given Adelman a boost of confidence in his second unit.
After a loss like the one they suffered on Wednesday and the comments that were made by Love, it was nice to see that everyone was able to move past it for the good of the team and that the team was able to respond with this blowout win. The true test will come on Sunday evening in San Antonio when they take on the Spurs. Regardless of whether or not the Wolves win, if we don't see the cohesiveness that we saw tonight, it'll be a clear indicator that the Wolves still have plenty of kinks to work out (with Chase & Ronny only being back for a handful of games...they ultimately do).
Tonight's box score...
With big men like Al Jefferson, Bismack Biyombo and Cody Zeller it's somewhat surprising to see such a huge disparity in rebounding, but the Wolves held a +21 on the boards and grabbed over 91% of all available defensive rebounds. Charlotte's 4 offensive rebounds and 33 total rebounds are both season-lows for a Timberwolves opponent.
The rebounding advantage is impressive, but not as impressive as Minnesota's playmaking. According to @TWolves_PR, tonight was the first time since February 22, 2009 (vs. Lakers) that the Wolves had five players with 4+ assists (Randy Foye, 6; Kevin Ollie, 6; Mike Miller, 5; Sebastian Telfair, 5; & Ryan Gomes, 4). Tonight it was Rubio & Dante with 6 apiece, 5 for J.J. Barea and 4 apiece for Love & Martin. Dante's 6 assists in 16 minutes are undoubtedly the most impressive of the pack and that sets a new season and career-high for the big fella. Sharing the rock with your teammates is a pretty good way to move past a situation in which your leader called you out in the national media.
This Bobcat squad features 3 former Minnesota Timberwolves: Big Al Jefferson, Ramon Sessions and Anthony Tolliver. Of those three, the least 'high-profile' of the bunch was the one who definitely seemed to be at home playing back at the Target Center. TOLLI! The epitome of hustle and energy scored 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting which included a perfect 5-for-5 from deep. The Wolves ultimately decided to let Tolliver walk two summers ago (and he ultimately signed with the Hawks for one season and then signed with Charlotte this summer) and traded for Dante Cunningham. I loved watching TOLLI play and I definitely miss watching him. It was great seeing him do well tonight (and even better that we didn't lose as a result of his terrific effort).
That's all for now, the Wolves will return to action vs. the Spurs on Sunday, enjoy the weekend and GO WOLVES!