I’m not going to say that the Wolves needed a win coming into Friday’s matchup with Washington, per se, but I’m not going to not say it either.
Minnesota, coming off a pair of discouraging losses to Los Angeles teams, returned home to face the 12-13 Wizards. It was an annoying record to consider before this game, since the Wolves — 13-15 before the game began — are a few games back in the Western Conference playoff chase, whereas Washington would be the sixth seed if the playoffs began today. But conference fortunes probably weren’t on the Wolves’ minds. Much more likely was the recent slippage not only in the standings, but also on the court. It had been a while since we’d seen the Wolves put together four quarters of good basketball (they were roughly 15 seconds away from doing so Sunday, but you don’t need to be reminded of that).
But the Wolves ended that streak Friday. After the Wizards started off hot, taking an early 9-2 lead, the Wolves responded with one of the more dominant quarters we’ve seen from them so far this year, winning the second 39-24. Most notable were the first four minutes, as Barea, Cunningham and Shved all scored to push Minnesota into the lead. This is notable because Barea, Cunningham and Shved are all members of the Timberwolves’ abysmal second unit that has been giving up leads like an informant talking to a cop.
But we don’t need to talk about that. The best part about tonight is that we can put aside the negativity of the past few games and be positive for a change.
First, a moment to express thankfulness for Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic who once again combined for 40-plus points and 20-plus rebounds. Minnesota’s offense, which has taken some lumps recently due to Ricky Rubio’s (perhaps historically) poor shooting numbers, has looked excellent running through its bigs — one stretching the floor, the other collapsing it. We all expected Rubio to be Love’s running mate for years to come, but Nikola Pekovic is quietly the second best-player on this team and also one of the best low-post big men in the league, which makes him the perfect piece alongside Love. If the Wolves go to the playoffs this year, they will ride in on the strength of their deadly front court.
Second, a small victory lap for Rubio, who only scored 11 points but got to the free throw line eight times. Rubio has been averaging just three free throw attempts this season, which has been in part due to his tentative play, but he was aggressive getting to the line. 11 points per game would be enough to get the critics off his back, especially combined with his nine assists.
Third, some applause for JJ Barea. Jub Jub is infuriating at times with his insistence on pounding the ball into the floor for 15 seconds of a shot clock, but I’ve quietly begun appreciating everything he does a little bit more. Does he miss a lot of shots some nights? Absolutely. Does he slow down the offense unrecognizably some nights? Yes sir. Is he one of the only productive players offensively off the bench, and does he have nights where he hits 8-for-10 from the field, making him a real weapon? Definitely. Barea might be the type of player we don’t appreciate until the playoffs when the defense locks up and the offense breaks down — a player who can create his own shot without an offense creating it for him.
And finally, a sigh of relief. The easier slate of games in Minnesota’s schedule actually began Friday, and the Wolves took care of business with ease. They beat an inferior team at home and moved back to one game under .500 with a chance to reach .500 against Milwaukee on Saturday. It’s not a resounding statement win, but it’s a quiet step in the right direction.
I’ll take it.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.