It was a contrast of styles as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings battled in a seesaw first half last night. As they continue to get healthy and try to acclimate to the return of superstar forward Kevin Love, the Timberwolves stayed active on offense and kept moving towards the rim. Players cut to the basket or drove the ball and the ever-key points in the paint category pointed their way. Meanwhile, the Kings relied on sharp shooting from mid-range and the outside to stage their runs, including a barrage of jump shots from enigmatic big man DeMarcus Cousins. With a 48-45 halftime score, the ‘Wolves hoped that the percentages would even out in favor of their style of play in the second half.
On his way off the floor for halftime, Love gave an interview in which he said the Timberwolves would win the game if they continued to play strong defense. Presumably he meant that they needed to keep making the Kings settle for jumpers, no matter how much swag Cousins showed as he drilled them in the first half. They did just that, and as Love predicted, the ‘Wolves came away with a 97-89 win.
As Love gets back into shape and top form after his surprise return last week, it is becoming more clear that Rick Adelman’s team might have created an ideal setup for his return. This was a team that played stingy defense but struggled on the glass and on offense. With his 24 point, 23 rebound game last night, Love showed how much of an impact he can have in those areas with his now-familiar devastating efficiency.
The other bright spots for the Timberwolves were Luke Ridnour and Nikola Pekovic. The only knock on Ridnour’s night came from Adelman after the game, when he said that he thought his starting point guard passed up a number of shots he should have taken. Otherwise he seemed to hit every shot he took. Pekovic showed his usual knack for finding the right position on the floor, outmaneuvering Cousins time after time in the paint and running the floor impressively.
The Timberwolves also have to be happy with the way that Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko seem to be settling into more comfortable roles on the team. Shved, no longer expected to shoulder such a heavy scoring load, simply needs to be a solid bench player who can hit big shots. He delievered last night with a couple key 3-pointers in the second half of the victory. Kirilenko was able to focus on a complementary load with his versatile game, and showcased his steadiness in that regard with key assists and stops on defense.
Minnesota travels to Los Angeles to face the Clippers in the Staples Center tonight, a tough second game in a west coast back-to-back. The game tips off at 9:30 P.M. CT.