Twas the night before Ricky’s return and all through the Target Center not a creature was stirring, that’s because the Wolves were on the road taking on the New Orleans Hornets Friday night. The Hornets entered the game losing 5 straight, while the Wolves have strung together 2 consecutive wins. The Wolves entered the game learning Malcolm Lee would be out indefinitely with a chrondal injury in his right knee, with Malcolm out; Alexey Shved got his first NBA of his career.
The Wolves starting 5 was Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Love, Andrei Kirilenko, Alexey Shved, and Luke Ridnour. The Wolves showed great ball movement early on, the movement allowed the Wolves to get the ball inside and create good looks in the paint, where the Wolves scored 12 of their first 14 points. Again it was great defense for the Wolves (4th in the NBA in Points Allowed), already creating 6 turnovers with 2:31 to play in the first quarter, those turnovers led to a Wolves 23-20 lead. It was not only creating turnovers that was so successful for the Wolves, it was controlling the inside. The Hornets had length, but the Wolves had size. It was that size which allowed the Wolves to outscore the hornets 16-8 in the paint after 1 quarter and take a 28-23.
The Wolves started the 2nd quarter with Cunningham, Howard, Williams, Shved and Berea, this group just seems to be very comfortable with each other, they move the ball well, but most importantly, understand each other’s capabilities, and it shows most on the defensive end. Rotations are crisp, energy is high and every single one of them has a solid understanding of their role. The bench again was extremely solid in the 2nd quarter; JJ Berea continues to look like the player the Wolves were hoping they would get when they signed him last season as a free agent. Berea ended the 1st half with 6 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 turnover. It was Berea and the 2nd units strong play that opened up a 9 point lead with 6:24 in the 2nd quarter. The Wolves 1st unit entered the game with 5:37 remaining in the half and saw the Hornets outscore them 17-8 to end the half with the game tied at 50. Kevin Loves struggles continued in the 1st half, as he was 2-11 from the field. The Wolves shot well over all as a team (51.2%), but the Hornets were able overcome the turnovers by shooting 55.9% in the 1st half.
Both teams started the 2nd half with the same starting 5 they opened the game with. The law of averages would say, the Hornets hot shooting wouldn’t hold up, but it did as the Hornets came out from half time and scored 5 straight points to take a 55-50 lead with 9:40 to play. Luke Ridnour answered with a 3 of his own and got the Wolves on the board for the first time in the 2nd half with 9:35 remaining in the 3rd quarter. After the Luke 3, it seemed to open up the scoring for the Wolves, as Minnesota gathered their composure, and were able to take back the lead halfway through the 3rd quarter. Both teams seemingly couldn’t miss for a 4 minutes stretch in the 3rd trading buckets; Minnesota was getting great looks in the paint while the Hornets continued to hit jumpers. As the quarter wore on, the Wolves were not only getting the ball inside, it seemed like they were finally hitting some 3’s. With 4:19 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Luke Ridnour hit a wide open corner 3 and gave the Wolves a 70-64 lead. It seemed the Wolves were finally getting the inside – out performance we’ve been waiting to see as they were 7-15 for 47% through 3 quarters, and taking an 82-73 lead heading into the final period of the game. Nikola Pekovic’s inside game, which helped the Wolves to the 9 point lead, had a season high 23 points through 3 quarters of play.
Entering the 4th quarter, the Wolves were shooting 55%, and started the final period with JJ, Shved, AK, Cunningham and Love. With 9:40 left, Kevin Love hit just his 4th FG of the game, which got him into double digits, as he was the last starter to score in double digits for the game. New Orleans stayed in this game with their 3 point shooting as they were 9-21 for 43% with 7 minutes left to play and trailing 90-84. With Josh Howard going down earlier, no Malcolm Lee, Roy or Budinger, the Wolves had some different rotations against the Hornets. For a stretch in the 4th the Wolves had Pek, Cunningham, AK, Luke & JJ on the floor. It didn’t seem to matter who, the Wolves had on the floor down the stretch, everyone was playing well. The ball was moving, players were cutting and defensively the Wolves were playing with a high energy level. As the game wore on and the Wolves managing their lead, Kevin Love left the game with 1:17 to play with an injury to his right hand. Even without Love on the floor the Wolves were able to close out the game in a dominating fashion winning 113-102 and improve to 11-9 on the season.
Josh Howard went down with a hyperextended right knee, he will be examined tomorrow and we will find out more on his status soon.
The Wolves scored over 100 points for the 4th time this season.
Pek has a career night with 31 points, and pulled down 5 rebounds.
The Wolves scored a new season high with 113 points in a game.
Shved was solid in his first NBA start with 13 points, 8 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals and only 2 turnovers.
Kevin Love had x-rays on his hand and they were negative.
I will be traveling and attending my first Wolves game of the season, follow @Notclose2famous for tweets during the game.
The team hasn’t officially said Ricky will return for Saturday night’s game, but through league sources it has been said he will play against the Dallas Mavericks at the Target Center with a 7 pm tip.
On a side note: For as much as we all enjoy sports and the ability sport has to provide entertainment and a break from other realities, there is no question that on Friday night there are many thoughts and prayers going out to the victims and families of the tragedy in Connecticut. I’m sure I speak for most everyone and say we all send our deepest sympathies to the families left to suffer in the wake of this senseless crime. As we look back on this day, be sure to spend time with the people who matter in your life, and if you don’t have the ability to spend time with them, tell them what they mean to you, as this is a reminder life is to short and nothing can be taken for granted.