Pekovic and Martin Carry Timberwolves over Mavs, 112-106

On the first night of yet another back-to-back, the Timberwolves rolled into Dallas on Saturday night to play the Mavericks. The Timberwolves came in carrying a five-game road losing streak and would need to find someday, any day, to build some confidence on the road if they planned on being a playoff team. In fact, the Timberwolves were just 2-6 on the road and have yet to win a game away from Target Center since the Lakers game.

Things didn’t start out so well for the Timberwolves, as they began the game in a shooting slump that put them down 7-2 early in the first quarter. Yet, six straight Nikola Pekovic points and a Kevin Martin three later, they were right back in the game. The Mavericks had a tough time contending with Nikola Pekovic all night, who finished with 21 points on 10-13 shooting and nine rebounds. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Pekovic’s nine boards was the fact that five of them were offensive rebounds. Dallas really had no answer for him last night.

The other big story of the game was Kevin Martin, who eventually saw his 37 straight made free throw streak end in the final minute of the game. When Martin finally began to heat up in the second quarter, he began to hit the Mavericks from everywhere, which is what I suppose happens when you tab Monta Ellis to be your Martin-stopper. Martin managed to get out in transition for quick dunks and pull-up threes, as well as working off of screens per usual. The Timberwolves even exploited the Martin-Ellis matchup on the block with a post-up! Yet, the brunt of Martin’s damage was done at the line– shooting 10-11 as a part of a Timberwolves team that shot 19 more free throws than their opponent.

Last night, the Timberwolves were able to keep this game out of the Mavericks’ reach, dangling it tortuously just passed arm’s length. The Mavericks fared well in categories like points in the paint, points off of turnovers and turnovers. However, their inability to keep Minnesota off of the glass, the line and inability to force them to miss threes would ensure they were never really coming back in this thing.

Now, the Timberwolves come into Oklahoma City to play a Thunder team that has hit their stride with Russell Westbrook back in the fold. At least they come in with a little bit of momentum, which they’ll need since this won’t be a blowout of Biblical proportions like the last time these two teams met.

Notes: 

– Nikola Pekovic’s shooting over the first seven games was a common talking point at the very early stages of the season. In the team’s first seven games he shot just 31-77 from the floor or 40 percent. Yet, since November 11th against the Clippers, Pekovic has been on a bit of a tear. Since then, Pekovic has made 80 of 131 shots in 10 games, or an impressive 61 percent. Pekovic’s shooting in the last few weeks is why it was so odd that he was struggling as much as he was, but now he seems to be doing very well for himself.

– Luc Richard Mbah a Moute made his Timberwolves debut tonight. In 26 minutes Mbah a Motue posted four points and seven rebounds, but it was cool to see how he got those points. His first basket he realized he was matched up against Vince Carter on the perimeter and took him off of the dribble and was able to eventually get into the paint for the layup. Now, do you want Mbah a Moute regularly try to create like that? Probably not, but Carter is a much better defender in post-up situations, so there was an advantage there. His second was a transition basket that he was fouled on and earned an and-one opportunity. Don’t look for Mbah a Moute to stretch the floor, but look for him to play intelligently within himself and taking his spots where he can.

– The Timberwolves improved to 9-0 on the season when leading after three quarters. The Mavericks broadcast threw out a stat that the Mavs have never won a game all season when they’ve trailed by more than six, which seems off, but noteworthy if true.

– Kevin Martin has made a ridiculous 39 of his last 40 free throw attempts.

A tale of two Kevins: Timberwolves down Mavs 116-108

There were two main things that determined tonight’s outcome: 1) Both teams making runs and 2) the abilities of the Kevins Love and Martin to lift the Timberwolves over the Mavericks at home.

Essentially, each team traded runs, but it was Kevin Martin’s three with 5:03 left in the third to put the Timberwolves up by 11 that put them in control of this game. Jose Calderon hit a pair of threes and Jae Crowder hit a layup to bring the Mavs back within three. In the third with the Mavericks threatening, Martin again rose to the occasion, hitting a 20-footer and then sinking two free throws later to put the Timberwolves up 89-83 early in the fourth quarter. However, Dallas would manage to stay close, keeping their deficit within three before Love hit a huge three pointer with 2:12 left and the Timberwolves never looked back.

Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis led the  way for the Mavs. Calderon added 21 points and seven assists, while Ellis added 23 points on 24 shots. Dirk Nowitzki added 14 points in 31 minutes on top of that. For the Timberwolves, Corey Brewer put up 17 points, three rebounds and four assists and Martin finished with 32 points and five boards. Ricky Rubio’s six points, four assists and three rebounds may not have stood out, but his three steals made an impact on the defensive end.

However, the real star of the game was Kevin Love, who was threatening to put up his first NBA triple-double in the first half. Seriously, 15-10-7 at halftime? Just unbelievable.

Coach Rick Adelman spoke this offseason about how he wanted to see Love be more of a facilitator than he had been in his career, and now we’re seeing it, and the Timberwolves are reaping the benefits. Love has now dished out five or more assists in a game in four consecutive games, the longest streak of his career. Adelman’s vision was for Love to not only expand his game, but to make his teammates better and we’re seeing that. Whether it’s rifling a cross-court outlet pass to a streaking Brewer or his pass from the high post to Derrick Williams making a backdoor cut to the basket. And when you have two of your best players, the other being Ricky Rubio, being so willing to pass it’s infectious– the Timberwolves had four players finish with four or more assists last night (Barea and Brewer being the other two).

By increasing his assist totals, Love has not had to sacrifice the other aspects of his game. Love is still scoring at 27.2 ppg and leading the league in rebounding yet again with 14.7 per game. Now in his sixth season, Love’s assists per game average would be twice as high as his previous career high of 2.5 without having to compromise any other area of production. If this sustains itself over the course of the season, Love will not only have established himself as a more complete player, but cement his status as the best power forward in the game. Oh, and he’s only 25, so he will likely continue to improve as he moves towards 30.

Love’s 32 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists was his second game of the season with at least 30-15-5, while the rest of the league has none. In fact, since entering the league in the 2008-09 season, Love has the most 30-15-5 games in that time while also essentially missing last season. Tonight a few of Love’s teammates had some big games, but Love was pivotal in helping making plays for them. Not to take anything away from Brewer or Martin, but Love played the role of facilitator to near-perfection last night.

Now, the Timberwolves stand at 4-2 after snapping  their two-game losing streak and begin a road back-to-back in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers beginning Sunday.

Howls From Around the NBA: Dirk Loses Himself

8 mile final battle

You only get one shot/Do not miss your chance to blow/Cause opportunity comes once in a life time.
-Eminem

It’s not often in life that a person gets a real shot at redemption.

After all, a redemption story requires a life-altering disappointment and then a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make up for that disappointment. And if you can throw in a little revenge to sweeten the deal…well. It just doesn’t get much better than that, does it? Ask 8 Mile; it wasn’t enough for Rabbit to win the rap battle. He needed to destroy Papa Doc and his entire crew in the process.

But if we were to believe Mr. Mathers on the issue of opportunities, 2006 would have been the end of the road for Dirk Nowitzki.

I’m sure you remember, but I feel the need to remind you: in ’06, Dallas faced Miami in the Finals. Dirk led the Mavs to a 2-0 lead, before Miami came storming back and took the next 4 straight games to rip the championship away from Dallas. Dallas fans (including Mark Cuban) were incensed at the superstar foul calls Dwyane Wade had been getting all series as he drove to the basket. The rest of the NBA began to call the Mavericks soft. This description picked up steam as the Mavs lost in the first round three times in the next 4 years, and failed to make it back to the Conference Finals.

But the story on Nowitzki and the Mavs has been getting an upgrade this postseason.

For starters, Dirk has been going nuts. Averaging 28.5 points per game, Dirk has been performing at an efficiency level rarely before seen in the NBA. Bill Simmons likes talking about the 50-40-90 club, a rare NBA achievement in which a player shoots 50% from the field, 40% from three, and 90% from the free throw line. This postseason? Dirk is shooting 52% from the field, 60% from three, and 92% from the line.

Whoa.

But more than that: Dallas has been proving themselves tough. Not only did Dallas sweep the defending champion Lakers, they did it after two come from behind victories in games at the Staples Center. They were more talented, more composed, and mentally tougher than Los Angeles, who embarrassed themselves in game 4, committing petty and dangerous flagrant fouls in a blowout, sending their Hall-of-Fame coach off in shameful fashion. (It was awesome.)

The NBA blogosphere has been flooded with writers clamoring to be the first to say “Dirk isn’t soft, I’ve been saying it all along!” Which, of course, is utterly bogus; everyone has been calling Dirk and the Mavericks soft since ’06, there’s no doubt about that. Many of these same writers said that Portland would upset Dallas in the first round, and very few, if any, of these writers picked Dallas to beat Los Angeles in round 2. For the record, I include myself in this, I picked the Lakers in 5. Fool me once, shame on me.

Possibly the most fascinating storyline left in the playoffs is this: if Dallas advanced to the Finals, their opponent could be none other than the Heatles, who enter Sunday’s game with Chicago tied 1-1 as well. Obviously, the Heat are a very different team. But the sight of those red and black uniforms, as well as Dwyane Wade, the player who completely eviscerated them last time, would be enough to make even the most confident Mavs’ fan shake a little bit.

At which point, it will be up to Dirk to change the narrative. This postseason has people talking about him in an incredibly positive way, but the internet is a fickle beast. With Kevin Durant and the Thunder already giving the Mavericks just about all they can handle, it’s not implausible to say that this could be Dallas’ last real chance to win a title. Failing to grab the Larry O’Brien trophy could close the book on Dirk’s legacy, as his years begin to climb up there, and it would be a very bitter taste with which to leave Dallas’ fans, especially if they lose again to the Heat.

But if he succeeds, and Dallas wins it all? Well, take it from Rabbit. That would be redeeming indeed.