Too close for comfort; Wolves win 86-84

Minnesota Timberwolves Guard Ricky Rubio, Right, Fouls

Rubio doesn't need Love to shine

In the words of our dearly suspended missed superstar, Kevin Love, “Whoa. Too close for comfort. Got it done. Happy for the team. Great win.”

But just imagine what the margin would’ve been without the Wolves’ new sterling starting center Nikola Pekovic.

Alongside Ricky Rubio, Pek dominated the game basically from start to finish, squeaking out a big home win against the Sacramento Kings.

It’s actually hard to capture what this win really means to the Wolves. For starters, the last five games or so, they’ve battled to make it to that .500 milestone. It doesn’t seem like too big of a deal but for the Wolves, hitting .500 well into the season is a tremendous feat. But tonight, they thwarted that goal and pushed it to the max by inching above the .500 mark for the season. That’s got to be a momentum builder going forward.

More to build on from this one: Nikola Pekovic. It’s premature to say he’s making a name for himself around the NBA but he’s definitely reaching towards that echelon. His post-game is outstanding; the footwork, the touch around the basket, it all comes together in an oddly attractive package; you just can’t help but love him right now. He still remains one of the clumsiest behemoths I’ve ever seen but he uses it to his advantage. One way to truly interpret his improvements in the post was a play mid-way through the third quarter. (YouTube won’t let me embed the video, sorry.)

As you can see, Pek received the ball on the lower block and was immediately double-teamed by Evans. He sensed the double-team, spun one-footed off of Cousins’ shoulder down the baseline and soared upwards for the dunk. He made Demarcus Cousins pout all night long — literally. Pek’s improvements will be ringing around the league and rivalries will start to form — He and Cousins clearly don’t take a liking to each other already, especially after he laid out Cousins last season.

But without Rubio, Pek may not have played at the level he did tonight. Rubio did a beautiful job all night of allowing Pek to gain position down low and hit him with a pinpoint pass; All Pek had left to do was toss it in. Rubio set all of his teammates up, whether it was alley-oops or skip passes for open three pointers, all of his 14 assists were simply sexy. And it could’ve been better; if the Wolves had more accurate shooters, I believe Rubio would’ve had 20 assists tonight, no problem. His court vision but, perhaps, most of all, his hustle allows plays to develop in ways they really shouldn’t in the first place.

Rubio’s hustle translates beautifully to the defensive end, too. He was scrambling for lose balls — although he did get into foul trouble as a direct result but it also paid off in five steals. But what I noticed tonight, is that Rubio’s hustle was so damn contagious. Everyone was hustling on loose balls, grabbing boards, getting knocked down and getting right back up; one play from Anthony Tolliver, who should’ve drawn a charge, hit the floor and, from the floor, swatted the ball away from a King.

Thanks to that pure hustle all over the floor, the Wolves really snuck away with one tonight. But don’t be disappointed; silver linings laced this victory. From Pek’s emergence, Rubio’s leadership and Derrick Williams’ clutch play down the stretch, it was a special win in so many ways.

Next up comes the Memphis Grizzlies tomorrow night. The Wolves will travel without Love for one more game. If I’m convinced that tonight’s win was special, a win in Memphis without Love would be astronomically important.

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