Shot down: Timberwolves outlast Hawks 108-103

In case you missed it, Nikola Pekovic is REALLY good at basketball.

Two Positives:

Tom: What more can you say about Nikola Pekovic? He posted a 2011-12 Kevin Love box score line tonight, dropping 25 points and grabbing 18 rebounds. But the best part about good Pekovic nights is his efficiency. Since so many of Pek’s baskets come right at the rim from P&R plays, he ends up shooting 50-60% quite frequently, and tonight was no exception.

But what interests me most about Pek is the way the Timberwolves still feel comfortable going to him late in the game. Leading by just a point, the Wolves tossed him the ball in the post and allowed him to go to work. Often it seems like defenses collapse too much to allow post plays to be very effective, but Pek turned and fired up a baby hook of sorts. Josh Smith swatted it away much too late and was correctly called for goal-tending. The Wolves will need more games like tonight from Pekovic if they want to stay in playoff contention without Kevin Love.

Derek: There was one big reason for the Wolves’ hot start, and that was Derrick Williams’ ability to make jumpers. Sure, he got Rubio four assists, but it wasn’t always a certainty he’d make those shots in the past. You know the Timberwolves’ all-time record when Derrick makes three or more three-pointers in a game? 5-1

Even on the other end, Derrick continued to show some quality defense. I wouldn’t call it elite, but you can see the difference in the eye test and with just about every defensive metric known to man. Surprisingly, defense has been Derrick’s redeeming quality thus far. In fact, per 48 minutes (Sorry, Jim Pete.), Derrick is holding opposing fours to a PER of 9.4 while posting an ok PER of 14.4. He’s also holding the other team’s power forwards to 0.7 fewer points per 100 possessions, 94.1-93.4. Now, if he gets the offense down consistently, Williams could develop into a nice player.

Williams finished 7/13 with 17-1-1 on the night, including 13 first half points.

Two Negatives:

Tom: The only reason the Hawks were as close as they were at the end of the game was because Kyle Korver knocked down a pair of threes that brought them within striking distance. Korver hits threes, certainly; it’s kind of his thing. And the second three was a pretty nice play, as Korver got a well-timed pass coming off a nice screen. But on the first one, Andrei Kirilenko lost track of Korver which just SHOULD NOT happen late in a game.

Derek: Lou Williams had 21-8-4 tonight and nearly stole the game single-handedly. LOU WILLIAMS!!!1!

Two Observations:

Tom: Dante Cunningham came through when it mattered, if there is a time when “it” matters “more.” His final minute made up for an inefficient shooting night (3-9, six points), knocking down a huge mid-range jumper and coming up with a steal on an inbound pass. All’s well as ends well, Dante.

Derek: We had seen some inexplicable slow starts from this team off of rest before, and they would be without Kevin Love, so it was going to be interesting to see how they came out at home. But they came right out of the gate against the Hawks looking refreshed, and focused. They led by double digits for most of the game before making this one close late, but they played some really good basketball for about 42 minutes tonight, including the final minute.

Notes: After the game, Larry Drew called the Hawks “soft” to reporters…Rick Adelman was excused from tonight’s game for family reasons, and Terry Porter handled coaching duties…Tonight was the first game in a five game/seven night stretch that leaves them with a quick turnaround in Oklahoma City tomorrow…Lazar Hayward was re-signed to another 10-day contract before tonight’s game.

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