Give Wolves' Kirilenko a star

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 21, 2012 - 11:18 PM

Andrei Kirilenko shines in the role of marking the NBA's elite, including Kevin Durant and LeBron James only days apart.

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Andrei Kirilenko defends against Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant.

Photo: Hannah Foslien, Associated Press

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Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman asked his defensive stopper to follow Miami superstar LeBron James whenever he roamed on Tuesday in Miami, then did the same when Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant came to Target Center two nights later.

At least he had the common decency after seeking so much to offer starting forward Andrei Kirilenko some comforting words following Thursday's 99-93 victory that ended the Thunder's 12-game winning streak.

"It kind of wears him out," Adelman said, "but I told him, 'The next game, you've got an easy one.' "

On Sunday at Madison Square Garden, Kirilenko will draw as his defensive assignment Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, who in one short, surprising season so far has elevated the famed but fallen franchise to contender and himself to early MVP candidate.

"So he's had LeBron, Durant, Anthony ..." Adelman said, his voice trailing off.

And so it goes for the guy who earns a $10 million salary by being asked to defend the opposing team's most talented player -- small forward, shooting guard or even something else -- night after night.

The Wolves identified acquiring a wing player who could defend multiple positions as their greatest need last summer.

When Portland matched the four-year, $45 million offer sheet the team made to young small forward Nicolas Batum, the Wolves turned their attention to Kirilenko, who starred for 10 seasons in Utah but, after playing in Russia last season and at age 31, had questions about his durability and perhaps his desire.

Adelman watched the games Kirilenko played for Russia in the London Olympics in August and he well remembered Kirilenko's years in Utah and knew the team was getting a versatile, accomplished veteran for that $20 million offer.

But he admits he had no clue just what kind of impact Kirilenko would make on a team that last season lacked consistency and professionalism.

Kirilenko has transformed the team's defense with his relentlessness, shot blocking and experience.

"If we hadn't gotten him, I don't know what we would have done," Adelman said. "He has been the glue for us, he really has. He's so active. He takes the best player on the other team all the time. He just does so many little things. If we hadn't gotten him, I'm not sure what we would have done because he's a huge part of what we do."

Without Kirilenko, the Wolves almost certainly wouldn't be 13-11 and sixth in the Western Conference.

The Wolves went 2-2 when Kirilenko missed four games because of back spasms -- probably caused because Adelman has played him as many as 44 minutes a night.

"It really hurt us," Adelman said.

Adelman sleeps better now, assured that he knows exactly who will guard the next night's LeBron, Durant or Carmelo.

"I like to play against good guys," Kirilenko said of the nightly challenges. "Those stretches happen. Sooner or later, you have to play those guys. I like it, not every night, though. You get tired, but that's a good stretch. They are probably the top three forwards in the league for this moment.

"They are three different types of players. It's almost impossible to guard them one-on-one because they are such great, great players. They're still going to make their 20, 30 points, but you try to make them take 30, 40 shots for those 20."

James took 18 shots to get his 22 points on Tuesday. Durant took 21 to get his 33 on Thursday on a night when the Wolves led from opening tap to final buzzer against a team that hadn't lost since the day after Thanksgiving.

"That's a great pickup for them," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "He's a team guy. He's one of those guys who fills up the stat sheet, and every teammate loves to have him around because he does so many winning things for your team: Rebounds, passes, blocks shots, defends, hustles. He's an all-around terrific player."

Kirilenko played 39 1/2 minutes Thursday and was on the floor every moment Durant was out there, except for the final 72 seconds when the Wolves led by eight, and a short second-quarter segment when Dante Cunningham guarded Durant.

Adelman knows he can't expect Kirilenko -- and his aging back -- to play 38-plus minutes every night.

"But I don't think we're going to face that all the time," Adelman said after Thursday's game. "A.K. and D.C. do a decent job, and sooner or later we have to have Derrick [Williams] play some of those people and see how he does. I don't want him to play 38 minutes.

"But [Thursday] I thought we have two days off and this guy [Durant] can get 15 points in two minutes so I wasn't going to leave A.K. on the bench. We need him out there."

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