Kings 83 - Wolves 99
A very solid second half outing allowed the Wolves to depose the Kings despite another sluggish and unimpressive start. Adjustments by coach Adelman for the second half were largely responsible for the turnaround, especially an alteration to the D and an aggressive small-ball line-up half way through the fourth which rewarded him with the game's decisive run. Before the grades, let's have a look at "Mal's Notable Numbers", brought to you by Mayn and Flynn At The Movies - a PoorDick production.
(apologies to ol' weird Harold for duplicating effort)
Love - 13th consecutive double-double to start the season, first since Hakeem Olajuwon in 92-93. If you're doing something Hakeem the Dream was the last to do, then you're doing something right. How great was Hakeem? He might be my favourite non-Wolf basketball player ever.
Fast Break Points - 10 SAC, 12 MIN. This must be the first time this season the Wolves have outscored the opposition on the break. They also didn't get killed in transition on D.
3pt % - MIN shoots 10-26.
~40% again. Good shooting from deep will keep this team in games while the interior scoring is still so unreliable.
12-13: Ricky Rubio's record for appearing in the NBA.com daily Top Ten (I think). Tonight, Ridnour's sick no-look to AT's touch to Love late in the fourth represented for Wolfdom.
MIN assists on 63% of made baskets - 17 combined assists for the starting backcourt.
Ball movement! From multiple players! It's a beautiful thing. At times the Wolves made the extra pass to get open shots, and Ridnour especially did a great job balancing pass and shoot tendencies during the game.
3 - turnovers forced by Darko on Cousins, and Darko's first quarter blocks.
290 lbs - listed weight of Nikola Pekovic. The Sacramento forwards probably doubt the truth of this.
Darko Milicic: 0 pts on 0-1 shooting, 1 reb, 2 stl, 3 blk, 3 to in 15 minutes
Darko continues to frustrate on court. Even J-Pete started taking shots at him on commentary tonight, and it's hard to argue with the observations he made. On D in the first quarter he was active and effective, blocking Cousins repeatedly and forcing him to turn it over. On offense, he turned it over, set repeated moving screens (only called once on five possible moving screen violations I can see. He could have had 7 total turnovers if that was ever called properly) and once again didn't finish strong at the rim. His missed shot was another uncontested interior finger roll he could easily have smashed down. It just looks terrible when he does that. Someone should paint Larry Brown's face on the backboard, capture and release the essence of Tim Duncan into the arena, perhaps through some manner of eldritch ritual - something, anything to make him more aggressive inside.
Kevin Love: 33 pts on 11-21 shooting, 11 reb (2 offensive), 3 ast, 2 stl, 3 TOs in 41 mins
Grade: (C+) A
Love played his second schizophrenic game in a row, with a lackluster first half and a dominating second. When he starts to get aggressive, points and rebounds just accumulate like iron filings to a magnet - it's amazing. He achieved his first career 3 game streak of 30 points or more, leaving him averaging an extremely impressive 25.6 points per game at a True Shooting of .573. Little needs to be said about Love's positives here, so I'm actually going to talk a little about things that he needs to improve.
First of all, tone down the complaining to the refs, man. I know you get hammered a lot by defenders (it seems pretty clear this year that teams have basically given up on boxing Love out and have just gone to plain old boxing to stop him on the offensive glass) and your FTs are a large part of your overall scoring efficiency, but it's getting annoying even for us judging by recent GameThreads. He got a deserved technical foul today, complaining about a block from Francisco Garcia (on the replay, it actually looked like Garcia got all ball first). On the other hand, angry aggressive Love is good for us - Ridnour said after the game (per NBA.com): "If he's not getting calls, he gets even more aggressive, especially on the rebounding. It really gets him going sometimes."
Secondly, I'd like to see Love improve his recognition and response to aggressive double teams in the post. He's getting the respect now that he will draw the extra defender in isolation (whatever anyone says, Kevin Love is a dangerous one-on-one post player) pretty much automatically. To my eye, he seems to have quite a lot of trouble dealing with this and turns the ball over at an alarming rate. If anyone knows how to get the numbers on that I would be interested to see them.
Third, his pump fakes aren't really lifting defenders at the moment. The scouting report on Love seems to have become pretty explicit that in 2 point shot face ups he'll fake before shooting - he's going to need to respond to this somehow.
Fourth, a tiny nitpick: I'm all for Kevin Love shooting 3 pointers, gun it, son, but I do wonder if seven attempts is perhaps a few more than he ought to be shooting on a nightly basis. Part of what makes him so extraordinary is his ability to be a dominant offensive rebounder and stretch four, but still, best not to over-exaggerate one at the expense of the other.
These points aside, a superstar second half from clearly max-deserving and better than Chris Bosh and LaMarcus Aldridge and pretty much anyone at the four Timberwolf Kevin Love. Keep on ballin', big man.
Wesley Johnson: 6 pts on 3-11 (0-4 3pt), 4 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl, 1 blk, 0 TO (!), +10 (!!!) in 34 minutes (!!!!!)
I wanted to award Wes a grade of (WT)F for this game, but on reflection I had to grudgingly admit that with one exceptional and very visible flaw (viz. his inability to score) this wasn't actually a performance of epic horror as we have come to expect. Discount the threes missed, and Wes shot 3-of-7, not great, but not bad for a tertiary or quaternary scoring option. But those missed threes... at least two were ridiculously open (see, for example, 10:34 in the third. Ricky recovers a broken play beautifully and gets Wes completely open. Brick, and Love fouls going for the rebound.) He is obviously getting no rotation on his jumper and his release looks jerky. He needs to work on his shooting mechanics - not something you want to say about a G/F of his age and skillset, especially if he's starting for your basketball team. The Kings are not a particularly intimidating team on the wing (hence the small ball we could roll out to win the game in the fourth) so Wes had a fairly easy time defending and acquitted himself pretty well in that department. Did he earn 34 minutes? Given the current injury situation and the matchups, I'd say he did - but if Webster performs at any sort of credible level, Wes is going to be a dogfight with the impressive Wayne Ellington for those backup minutes.
Luke Ridnour: 25 pts on 10-14 shooting (4-4 from deep) 3 reb, 9 ast, 2 stl, 1 TO in 38 minutes
I don't think it would be hyperbole to suggest that this was Luke's finest game in a Timberwolves uniform. 25 points is Ridnour's Minnesota career high (he recorded 30 and 32 for the Seattle SuperSonics in the ‘05 and ‘06 seasons respectively) and his overall stat line gives him his highest GameScore since moving here as a free agent. In the first quarter he pretty much singlehandedly provided the offense with ten points and three assists. For the first time he really seemed to embrace the shooting guard role with Rubio. It was great to see him playing within the offense and not succumbing to his tendency to take early shots, and his nine assists were well earned through controlled play when he did slide over to the point. One of his credited dimes was a rather dubious off-the-backboard alley-oop layup to Love - at first sight I immediately classified it as a Darko Assist. Love's reaction got him the assist more than anything, I think... what say you, CH?
On D he spent a lot of time guarding Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette, who both had poor scoring nights. At some points he was even one on one against ‘Reke - considering he got burned repeatedly by Jeff Teague at the Highlight Factory the other day I was surprised Evans didn't seem willing to attack Luke. At any rate, Evans didn't score on him. Overall, it's hard to question any aspect of Ridnour's performance.
Ricky Rubio: 9 pts on 3-10, 8 reb, 8 ast, 2 stl, 4 TO
Rubio recorded a near triple double while looking somewhat less dynamically amazing than usual. He seemed to be bothered by the length of Evans in the first half, and his jumpshot lacked fluidity throughout the game. In the first half, he was completely outplayed by Ridnour and seemed to be running the point every time Sacramento went on a run - indicated, perhaps, by his surprising plus-minus of negative three. As the game went on he seemed to adjust, and the passes started flowing as we have come to expect. Three stick in the mind - a penetrate-and-skip to Ellington in the corner, a dish out to Ridnour for the dagger three (set up by some terrific handling to split a hard-hedge) and the fake-delay-no-look to Randolph in the second quarter. This assist was excellent, mostly because it completely destroyed Jimmer Fredette, who looked lost and confused, like a sheep that had been asked to lecture on quantum physics.
Rubio finished the game with 8 assists, although he should certainly have had more. Maybe we should add "Wes Assists" to "Darko Assists" in the CH lexicon - Wes Assists are passes to Wes' shooting pocket in the corner when completely open that he manages to miss. Rubio had at least two W-asts on the game. Overall, a solid performance marred only by some turnovers and some poor decisions on shot attempts early on.
Wayne Ellington: 15 pts on 6-10, 3-5 from deep, 2 reb, 1 stl, 1 blk, 0 TOs in 26 minutes
I really wanted to give Ellington an A, because I was extremely pleased with his performance. Adjusted for role player expectations, he certainly would have done. Coming off the bench, Ellington hit his shots from spot ups and hustled defensively. His steal and slam in the fourth was a particular highlight. He completely earned his minutes in the fourth where RA went small and sent Wayne out at the three against John Salmons. The last report card I did, I speculated that games like this would be rare jewels from Ellington, and I'm glad to say that I may well have done him a disservice. He has played very well in the last couple of weeks.
Nikola Pekovic: 5 pts on 2-5, 3 reb (3 offensive), 2 stl, 1 TO, 4 fls in 16 minutes.
Isn't watching Pekovic fun? The man is simply huge. His 16 minutes today didn't exactly set the world on fire on either end of the court, but Sacramento didn't enjoy his physicality inside one little bit, as his offensive boards suggest. One of his makes was the epitome of deep post position, as Wes fired it into Pek who had sealed off DMC right under the basket. Cash money. Who was it who said last year that "Contact Is Afraid of Pek!" Scissors, or Cynical Jason perhaps... anyway, some solid burn for Pekovic last night.
Incidentally, my favourite things about Pek are watching him run the floor (he looks like an angry bulldozer) and how he sets screens. One pick in this game was set so brutally hard that you could almost see the teeth of Rubio's defender rattle. He was about five foot behind the play immediately, and Rubio and Ridnour caused havoc with the space.
Anthony Tolliver: 0 pts, 0-1 shooting, 2 boards, 1 (sweet) ast, 1 blk in 13 minutes
Tolliver didn't really do anything particularly wrong or right in his limited minutes. His touch assist during showboating time got onto the top ten plays of the day, but otherwise, AT did what AT does - hustle and do the small things.
Anthony Randolph: 4 pts. 2-4 shooting, 2 reb, 1 blk, 1 TO in 8 minutes
I nearly gave AR an incomplete considering he didn't play ten minutes, but decided that 4 shots means he was involved enough to require grading. He stays in the C grade because his burn coincided with an atrocious period of offensive and rebounding ineptitude in the second quarter. I will say this - you know how running backs buy presents for their offensive line? AR had better save up some money this year because he owes Ricky one hell of a nice end of season present.
Derrick Williams: 2 pts on 0-3 shooting, 2 reb, 2 ast in 9 minutes
I'm being generous with this incomplete, because Williams had a pretty poor nine minutes of game time. His rebounding was a particular disappointment, but his inside scoring is becoming worrisome. I know he's a rookie, and he seems like the kind of hard working kid who'll make off season strides, but right now he doesn't look like a reliable nightly contributor. He's 2-17 on 2 point shots in his last four games. The reason for this seems only to be finishing, as he has plenty of moves, either with back to basket or from the triple threat. His points tonight came off a foul where he really should have got the hoop as well as the harm. Maybe he'll overcome this mini-slump in the coming weeks - at least it seems to be bothering him.
The Sacramento Kings
Grade: surging towards mediocrity
This reign of the Kings looks to be a disappointment to Sacramento to add to the off-court problems dogging the franchise. I was panicking a little in the third quarter at the possibility that such a team could still take the Wolves at home - as it happens, Rick Adelman pulled out a neat little couple of moves and this thankfully ended up a blowout. A lack of offensive firepower seems the most immediate worry for the Kings - who's going to get those twenty and thirty point games you sometimes need? ‘Reke? He's a solid contributor who can get points. DMC? Crazy, but can be effective. Otherwise? Um, unlikely. Donte Green, Jason Thompson, Francisco Garcia, JJ Hickson? That's not a set of players who you'd love to see rocking up to training camp together. The shooting rookie, Fredette, might have a few years in the pros if he's lucky and works hard, but really if his shot isn't falling he offers nothing. I hope the Kings improve and stay in Sacramento, but I would be hoping for a good draft if I was them.
King Wolf: Luke Ridnour
Goat: sorry, Darko, but please learn to dunk
All in all, a solid win. It's rare to get easy games against the Western Conference, so it's good to take advantage of those opportunities. Next up, a very winnable game against the Detroit Pistons. Go Wolves!