It’s hard to overstate what Kevin Love means to this team.
Minnesota was on the verge of blowing a respectably large lead and losing to Houston Friday night. They had allowed Courtney Lee to burn them from deep. They were completely falling apart offensively after playing three excellent quarters of basketball, and had left themselves with a tenuous one point lead.
Then Kevin Love took over. Quietly amassing rebounds all game, Love chose exactly the right time to pour in some very loud baskets. Two threes and an easy put-back later, the Wolves were up nine. They didn’t look back.
Kevin Love is arguably the best power forward in the game right now, but it’s becoming less and less arguable with every game he plays. Against Houston, he put up 33 points and 17 rebounds and you, the reader, didn’t even blink reading those stats. He was efficient, shooting 11-16 from the field, and he played excellent defense on Luis Scola all night. Love has now scored at least 30 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in five different games this year. Five different games! That is statistical insanity.
But he was so much more than just a statistical monster. Love came up big EXACTLY when the Wolves needed him. He was relatively quiet for much of the game, but as the Wolves offense froze up late after flowing for 40 minutes previously, Love came alive, put the team on his shoulders, and carried them to a big victory.
The term “Superstar” gets thrown around too much in the NBA, but what Love played like a superstar last night. He got his stats, helped his teammates stay in the game, and when he recognized the moment that his teammates need him, he performed. I don’t know if I’d call Love a superstar yet, but ask me again at the end of the season.
Of course, Pekovic’s performance was also too good to be relegated to the bullet points. 30 points on 12 rebounds including NINE offensive? He is frighteningly unstoppable.
It’s becoming a basketball hipster trend to bang on Jeremy Lin via Pek, and honestly, that isn’t my intent. I’m actually enjoying Linsanity (when he isn’t playing Minnesota). But eventually, teams are going to figure out how to limit him. His skill-set doesn’t really lend itself to extended periods of dominance.
How do you stop a player like Pek? On paper, Samuel Dalembert is the kind of center who seems up to the task, both long and athletic. But Pek is so strong, and he decimated every big man Houston threw at him. This sounds crazy, but teams honestly are going to have to start planning their defenses around Nikola Pekovic. You can’t keep him out of the paint, and you can’t defend a shot that is three feet from the basket. Teams may to have to bring double teams, which means BOTH of Minnesota’s post players are going to require special defensive attention. That will be a nightmare for opposing coaches.
Team #Linsanity vs Team #Pektacular? I’ll take Pekovic’s Peksellent play (and the Peksecutioner’s nicknames). The ride may not be as dramatic (write this down: Pekovic will never make a game-winning three), but it feels more permanent to me.
On to the bullets!
- Here’s something weird for you: guess who led the Wolves in +/-? If your guess made any sense at all, you were wrong: it was Wes Johnson at +23 (!!!). Jonah outlined some things Wes needs to do to be effective a few days ago, and he has actually performed pretty well over the past couple games. He shot 4-6 on Friday (both misses were three point attempts), and pulled down some rebounds. But his best play was defensive: a chase-down block on Courtney Lee. Just great energy and awareness.
- One thing Pek needs to improve (and there’s no reason to believe he won’t): rolling to the hoop off a pick and roll. Too often he gets caught on the defender he screened off the ball handler and ends up committing a moving pick. As the Wolves continue to run the play for him, he should get better and better at it.
- Hang on, I’m still not done with Pek. How about that fast break where he dribbled with his head straight down then rose up for the slam?! That was awesome.
- Minnesota was really impressive in the open court, as this game had a frantic pace for most of the night. As the Wolves’ post players continue to get more comfortable in the half court, Minnesota will become even more dangerous: opposing teams won’t want them to run with the ball OR slow it down.
- I’ve seen some empty arenas attending Wolves games, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an arena as empty as Houston’s at tip-off. There were probably twice as many empty seats as human beings.
- I don’t understand why Minnesota is playing with such a short bench right now. Last night, with a really tough game against Philadelphia looming on Sunday, Adelman played just eight players, despite only missing JJ Barea. Tolliver, Ellington, and Randolph are all got the DNP-CD. My best guess is that Adelman, after tinkering with lineups for the first part of the season, has settled on his favorite and wants them to develop chemistry, but it really bums me out to see good role players like Tolliver not getting any minutes.
- Love got some boos, but nothing on the court really indicated Houston players were bent out of shape over Stomp-gate. Was this bullet mostly an excuse to post a link to the picture I made? Well…maybe.
- After the Rockets exploited the Chandler Parsons/Luke Ridnour matchup on the very first possession, I was worried Parsons would continue to attack Ridnour in the post consistently. But Ridnour responded with a floater on the other end, and though Parsons had a good game (18 points, 6 rebounds), he never really took over.
Finally, for your viewing pleasure, I present my favorite Rubio assist of the year. In the game, I thought Rubio was going to throw it out of bounds. Nope.