Wolves Record This Week: 3-2
Can you believe we're already more than a quarter of the way through the season? With 13 wins, the Wolves are in second place in the Northwest Division, 6th place in the Western conference, already have half of the wins they had last year, and have nearly hit their victory totals from 2009-10(15) and 2010-11(17). In a week of highs and lows, the Wolves ultimately won more games than they lost. They stumbled in Florida(more on that later) but defeated two perennial contenders in the Mavericks and Thunder. Overall, I'd say it was a fairly positive week. Let's look at some specifics.
Ricky Rubio: C
In his first week back in action since early March of this year, Ricky reminded us why we love his play-making ability against Dallas, and reminded us that he's coming back from a serious injury against Orlando and Oklahoma City. Even in those two games he showed flashes of the guy we fell in love with, but it's clear he's rusty. He'll need some time to get back up to speed athletically, but he obviously didn't lose anything in the way of court vision(you can probably guess what made the Wolves highlight of the week). The thing that strikes me about Rubio is how much he makes passing look cool. You can just hear it in the crowd. Can you think of nearly any other player in the NBA that has that effect? Or ever? One of the greatest assisters of all time, John stockton, never really accomplished the feat of making passing look cool. Really, the only guys I can think of are Magic Johnson with his Showtime Lakers and Pete Maravich. Most kids want to score, or want to posterize somebody with a dunk. Ricky's that kind of transcendent player that will make kids want to be able to make the types of passes that get the crowd on their feet. And that's a pretty cool thing when you think about it.
Florida Trip: F
Most trips to Florida turn out pretty cool. Theme parks, beaches, warm weather, palm trees. What's not to love? Plenty, if you're the Timberwolves. The Wolves haven't beat the Miami Heat since they acquired the big three, and they haven't won in Orlando since 2007. Going into Monday's game against the Magic, I thought they had a great chance to leave with a victory. Orlando isn't exactly loaded with star-talent these days. After a great first half, I felt even better about it... But then they completely fell apart in the second half and scored as much in the second half as they did in the second quarter(32). They couldn't make a shot and gave up way too many easy baskets. The team did almost the exact same thing the following night in Miami. After a generally pretty good first quarter and a half on NBATV's "Fan Night", the Wolves managed to lose a game in which they outrebounded their opponent by a ridiculous margin of 53-24. In case you were wondering, that doesn't happen often. According to Basketball Reference, teams are 106-3 since 1985-86 when they have a +28 rebounding margin. Well, make that 106-4, I guess.
Nikola Pekovic: A
Other than missing a handful of layups and other close shots, I'm not really sure this week could have gone better for Big Pek. Over the five games, he averaged 22.6 points and 9.6 rebounds on 54.2% from the field. He closed the week out with 3 straight double-doubles, giving him 7 on the season. He was a major factor in the win against the Thunder. It was actually perplexing that the team seemed to go away from him a little bit in the second half, after he scored 18 in the first half. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka weren't able to do much to slow down the nimble Pekovic, and he was often able to get easy baskets. He's been doing a nice job lately of finding an open space in the paint, and converting down there when other players are finding him. His baby hook also seems to be coming back a little bit after looking a bit off earlier this season.
Alexey Shved: B
Alexey played great in the three wins the Wolves had this week, but not so great in the two losses. That's certainly not to speculate that the Wolves go as Alexey goes, but he scored in double figures in all three wins, and notched only a single basket in both wins. He drew an awfully tough matchup in Dwayne Wade, who got him into some foul trouble. I'm not sure how many of the fouls Wade drew in that game were legit, but it was clear he was frustrating Shved throughout the game. On the bright side, he logged his first ever career double-double last night against the Thunder with 12 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds. Those were also career highs in rebounds and assists for him. In the three wins, he also shot greater than 60% from downtown as opposed to 10% in the losses. Not saying, just saying.
Josh Howard: A Fond Farewell
Way back in 2003, the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted an unproven player out of high school as opposed to the ACC player of the year, Josh Howard. A lot of people were bugged about that decision, and their complaints were validated when Howard become an all-star player scoring nearly 20 points per game for the Dallas Mavericks. Nine years later, he finally donned a Timberwolves jersey after early season injuries prompted the Wolves to sign the free agent guard. After being on the roster for 15 games, and playing in 11 of those, the relationship has ended after Howard unfortunately tore his ACL in the December 14th game against the Hornets. He averaged 6.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 18 mintutes, and had his best game in a blowout win against the Sixers, in which he had 16 points and 10 rebounds on nearly 60% from the field. Josh's time with the team was unfortunately cut short, and for his sake I hope the ACL injury isn't career-ending.
JJ Barea: B
JJ had an up and down week. He had a rough go of it from the field against the Magic and Heat, but might have single handedly willed the team to victory against the Thunder. Barea scored 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and scored 12 straight for the team during a critical stretch in which the Thunder cut the Wolves lead to 3. His double-figure scoring streak has now stretched to 10 games after getting 10+ in every game this week. We've said all along that he his ideal role is being a spark plug off the bench, just so long as he doesn't try to do too much.
Kevin Love: C+
Love didn't shoot particularly well this week, and wasn't able to play in Ricky Rubio's debut due to flu-like symptoms, but he did what stars are supposed to do -- shine in big games. K-Love dropped 28 points on the Thunder on 45% from the field, including 4-9 from beyond the arc. He also logged 11 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 blocks, including a huge swat on Russell Westbrook with less than 30 seconds to play. The 4 threes were the most Kevin has made this year, and the 44% is the highest percentage he's shot from distance this year. Might he be turning a corner? Let's hope so.
Wolves Highlight of the Week:
After being out of action for just over 9 months, it didn't take Ricky Rubio much time to make his way back into our hearts and onto the highlight reel. On a play that I had to watch back about 5 times via DVR before I even understood exactly what happened, Rubio takes the highlight of the week on a bounce pass to Greg Stiemsma.
Wolves Twitter/Instagram Photo of the Week:
This week, Timberwolves PR guy(@Twolves_PR) shows that the NBA Travel life isn't so bad every now and again. While the rest of us were dealing with chilly winter weather, the Wolves were perched in a gorgeous Miami hotel with one hell of a view.
Image Courtesy of Timberwolves PR via Twitter
Stick with me this season as we continue to look back on the Wolves Week that was. Comments, criticisms, etc? Please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts. Or discuss it with me on Rube Chat here.
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This article was written by jab. You can normally find him meandering around Rube Chat. Or feel free to email him at email@example.com.