First things first: the Minnesota Timberwolves are 3-1. Of course, they also played at home against an already bad Orlando Magic team missing two of its starters due to injury in Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson, the night after they lost to the Bulls in Chicago. With that being said, the Wolves’ defense was extremely stingy, with the Magic not reaching 60 points until the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. The Wolves offense was streaky, to put it gently, but certainly had its impressive moments.
The Timberwolves jumped out to a quick lead in the first quarter due to fantastic defense and the very active duo of Derrick Williams and Luke Ridnour. While Williams is still struggling with being decisive on offense and driving in a straight line to the hoop, Wednesday night was by far his most active and solid all around appearance of the young season.
Williams shot more outside shots in this game than he had in any game this season, but none were forced. He took what the defense gave him for the most part, although there were a couple of moments when Williams hesitated on a semi-open jump shot, proceeded to have a great first step to the rim, and then stopped and faded away on a short jumper, missing badly. It’s these moments, when Williams gets stuck between being passive and aggressive and ends up taking an off-balance fade away, that he needs to eliminate from his game.
Defensive rebounding is still a skill that seems to evades Williams more than it should, giving his rebounding prowess at the University of Arizona. One thing that he continues to do very well is tip rebounds in the air on both ends of the court, keeping the ball alive and leading to additional rebounds for his teammates.
Luke Ridnour was significantly more active on Wednesday night than he had been in the previous three games, and any concerns about his sore back appear to be forgotten. Ridnour was playing the passing lanes on defense, getting sneaky rebounds, and making good decisions on the fast break. He was also deadly accurate with his trademark pull-up jumper in transition, leading to an efficient 6-for-9 shooting night (3-for-4 on three point attempts), to go along with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and a block.
The Wolves’ second unit, which brought them all the way back from a 22-point second half deficit on Monday night in Brooklyn, struggled mightily to put the ball in the basket in the second quarter, starting the frame with a 0-for-11 cold streak. The defense remained solid, although Orlando’s anemic offense certainly contributed to the second quarter remaining as close as it did. The Wolves entered halftime with a slim 38-34 lead, despite outplaying Orlando for much of the first half.
The Wolves started to pull away late in the third frame and into the start of the fourth quarter. Greg Stiemsma played fantastic defense (2 blocks and numerous contests leading to altered shots) and efficient offense (6-for-7 shooting), while Andrei Kirilenko continued his impressive early season play with his typical solid defense and rebounding in addition to his consistent play-making on the offensive end of the floor.
The Timberwolves opened a 27-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, showing how good the chemistry of the second unit is already in just the fourth game of the season. Eventually, the officials realized the final score was not going to be close enough and started calling touch fouls on the Wolves’ reserves every time down the floor. The final score of 90-75 was closer than the game really was, as the outcome was decided in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
– Brandon Roy was solid, with a final line of 3 points, 9 assists, and 5 rebounds. He continues to miss open jumpers, but is adept at finding open shooters on the perimeter and drawing multiple defenders in the paint before kicking the ball to a teammate. It seems as though once he gets into the lane, he does not have the explosiveness to rise above the defense, but is content to create offense for his teammates rather than forcing up too many contested shots. If he starts knocking down the open shots that he is currently missing, he’ll be just fine over the course of the season.
– Glen Davis was awful for the Magic. He shot 2-of-9 from the field with 4 turnovers and an array of awkward, mid-range fade away jump shots. Derrick Williams was largely solid in contesting Davis’ shots and staying in front of him.
– The 2012-13 Timberwolves have an array of players that are willing (and able) to execute plays drawn-up by Coach Rick Adelman out of timeouts. At the seven minute mark of the third quarter, Adelman called for a handoff on the left side of the floor from Ridnour to Roy, coming off of a high screen set by Nikola Pekovic. Roy immediately swung the ball to Williams on the right wing, who then fired the ball to a wide open Pekovic rolling to the hoop for an uncontested dunk. It was beautiful, both as a microcosm of Adelman’s coaching prowess, and a clear example of what Adelman was looking for in acquiring a team full of veterans. Simply having players that can execute a play out of a timeout is a step in the right direction, as the Beasleys, Johnsons, and Milicics of 2011-12 would have no doubt failed to execute (or even remember) a play such as this.
– The Timberwolves will play host to the Indiana Pacers at TargetCenter this Friday night. Tip-off is set for 7:00 p.m.