Jerry Zgoda missed the entire Kevin Garnett era, but he's back covering the Timberwolves after working the beat for their first four seasons two decades ago. In between, he covered a bit of everything: Gopher men's and women's basketball and NCAA athletics, golf, outdoor recreation, sports media and a little Vikings and Twins.
Just in time...
That's what Monday night's victory in Cleveland was, a fourth-quarter victory that was just the kind of victory the Wolves needed for their collective mental health.
"I think it's really important, the things we did down the stretch," Rick Adelman said after the Wolves ended a four-game losing streak and won for the just the third time in their last 18 games. "I thought we defended them good. We executed. We still turned it over way too many times, way too casual and tried to make the home-run play and not the simple play."
They hadn't won a road game since Jan. 3, which incidentally is the last time Kevin Love played in a game for them.
The Wolves had lost eight straight on the road since Love broke his hand again in the third quarter of that game in Denver and then his teammates produced that big win without him. I think Miami and Washington remain the only other teams that have beaten the Nuggets at home this season.
Adelman brought Ricky Rubio back with his fifth foul and went with three guards again -- Rubio, Alexey Shved and Luke Ridnour -- for the final 2:48 and the Wolves held off an improving Cavs team down the stretch.
They did so thanks mostly to Ridnour's fourth quarter, when he scored 13 of his 21 points and got free on a well-executed play with a double screen including one from big Nikola Pekovic after a timeout for a three-pointer with 1:43 that repelled the Cavs after they had gotten within 92-89.
The Wolves had six players score in double figures, including all five starters for only the fourth time this season.
Big Pek got back in his double-double ways with a 16-point, 10-rebound game he credited with his teammates making shots. The Wolves made eight threes (on 14 attempts) and shot 52 percent from the field.
"Game's a lot easier when you make shots, I found that out," Adelman said.
There's a reason he's won nearly 1,000 games...
J.J. Barea played nearly 15 minutes on that sprained foot, but only 95 seconds in the fourth quarter. Adelman praised him for trying, but said he wasn't moving very well, particularly in the second half so he kept him out. Barea was sullen in the locker room afterward, waved off Pek's attempt to play with him in an otherwise joyous locker room and declined when I asked to talk about the game and that foot.
Pekovic was accompanied by team athletic trainer Gregg Farnam down the corridor after tonight's game toward the Cavs' locker room, which usually means he was needing to have something examined. Adelman said he was fine, mentioned he might have gotten hit in the head. Pek said he was fine after the game.
And just for a change of pace, here's my colleague Chip Scoggins story on former Wolves forward Gary Trent's transformation from lost soul to changing children's lives at Dayton's Bluff elementary school in St. Paul.
Wolves flew home after the game and play their final game before All Star break Wednesday night against big Al Jefferson, Randy Foye and Utah at Target Center.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of the Timberwolves’ loss Friday was the continued strong play by Ricky Rubio.
He has been getting better by degrees for a while now. But I think he looked the best he has looked all year while playing a season-high 39 minutes.
Rubio was just 6-for-14 from the field. But he was aggressive, getting to the line nine times. He finished with a season-high 18 points, with 11 assists. It was his second double-double of the season. “He is getting better each game,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “He is getting his legs under him. Played a lot of minutes tonight, but he had a solid game. He just has to keep working through it.”
Here are some other impressions from tonight’s game:
--Derrick Williams had a very strong night, and I think Rubio is a big reason. Williams had eight field goals Friday, and five of those were assisted, all five by Rubio.
--Alexey Shved is struggling with his shot. He was 3-for-10 Friday and is 9-for-29 his last three games.
--Luke Ridnour was stone cold in the third quarter, hitting all five of his shots, some of them difficult ones.
--I know the Wolves are the league's worst three point team. But 1-for-13?
That’s about all for now. I’ll get back to you after tomorrow’s practice.
It might sound strange coming on the heels of two losses to two bad teams. But I thought there were some positives for the Wolves to focus on as they get ready for a very critical six-game homestand.
No, I don’t think I’m crazy. Yes, I know the Wolves just lost back-to-back games against the two teams with the worst records in the Eastern Conference.
But there are rays of hope:
--Ricky Rubio looked very good tonight. Playing on the back end of a back to back, he had perhaps his best all-around game of the season. He was wonderful in the fourth quarter, when he had three points, three steals and two assists as the Wolves came back from eight down to hold a two-point lead before Gerald Henderson’s three-pointer doomed them.
--Luke Ridnour continues to play well, with a 22-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist game.
--The Wolves should get both Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved back at some point in this homestand, with Shved perhaps being ready as early as Wednesday.
--Despite the losses, I was impressed with the energy the Wolves brought to the start of Saturday’s game, and the fact that, down eight in the fourth, they fought back. I know, I know, they lost the game. But the players have not given up.
Some other thoughts from the game:
--I wonder if Barea’s reputation for flopping hurt him in the closing seconds.
--Center Greg Stiemsma had a wonderful game, scoring 11 points with seven rebounds and two blocks.
--I wonder if Andrei Kirilenko isn’t a little tired. He looked a little slower tonight. Though getting hit early – and requiring six stitches – couldn’t have helped.
--What is it about former Wolves players? Tonight Ramon Sessions had 23 points off the bench for the Bobcats.
That’s about it for now. The Wolves will have Sunday off, then begin preparations for Wednesday’s game against the Clippers.
The Wolves have gone three games without a win, and have gone nearly 102 minutes without even having a lead. And so it was a fairly despondent group that headed out of the Verizon Center locker room here in Washington, D.C., tonight.
“I think we know what’s going on,” guard J.J. Barea said. “I think I’ve been through it before. I think we’ve all been through it. We’ve just got to hold on, you know, be patient, and keep fighting every game.”
Fact is, the litany of Wolves injuries has taken its toll. The Wolves have struggled mightily of late, especially on defense. Tonight the lowest-scoring team in the NBA scored the most points allowed by the Wolves this season. And the the offense is hurting, too. There just aren’t enough players at acting coach Terry Porter’s disposal who can be depended on to score.
Here are some quick thoughts on tonight’s game:
--Ricky Rubio played a season-high 31:01 tonight. He had four points on 1-for-8 shooting – he is still struggling to explode on drives to the hoop – with six assists and five turnovers.
--Mickael Gelabale and Chris Johnson combined to score 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting with 12 rebounds. But the fact that Porter has to depend on two players just signed to 10-day deals to play a combined 47 minutes shows you what injuries have done to this team.
--After getting to the free throw line just six times Wednesday, the Wolves made 33 trips there Friday. They missed 13 of them.
--Derrick Williams had a double-double, with 11 rebounds and 18 points. But he needed 17 shots to get those 18 points.
That’s about it for tonight. I’ll get back at you before tomorrow night’s game in Charlotte.
So that went exactly as planned, didn’t it?
The Wolves broke a five-game losing streak on a night when it had just nine healthy players. And just seven of them had played for the Timberwolves before. I haven’t seen anything like what happened at Target Center – two fellows fresh off signing 10-day contracts, getting into their first game and combining to score the Wolves’ first 23 points of the fourth quarter.
No wonder fans were chanting “MVP’’ when Chris Johnson went to the line. There might have even been a chant or two for Mickael Gelabale, too.
In an offense stripped to its simplest core, the Wolves simply had Johnson set a pick, then roll to the basket. Gelabale just tried to find open spaces on the court. And then the Wolves – mainly Ricky Rubio, who had four fourth-quarter assists – found them.
“I haven’t seen it but I’m sure it’s been done,” Wolves acting coach Terry Porter said. “I would have to go back and look, but I don’t recall, in my experience, getting two guys like that and just having them step in and putting in (that) type of work for us. At both ends of the floor, not just the offensive end. Both of them had tough assignments at the other end.”
Now the Wolves head to Atlanta for Monday’s matinee. The team should have Dante Cunningham back; he missed Saturday’s game with an illness. There is a chance the Wolves will have Alexey Shved back from a twisted ankle. But will they be able to get back into the rotation with monsters like Johnson and Gelabale around?
A joke. But seriously, here are some reactions to tonight’s action:
--Porter will probably get some more demerits for playing Ricky Rubio 30 minutes, two minutes more than he was supposed to play. But Rubio looked very spry tonight. It appears he’s getting his legs.
--Andrei Kirilenko had a fine double-double, with 21 points and 11 rebounds. He also had three steals and two assists. He was 8-for-11 from the field.
--Luke Ridour has scored 37 points in his last two games. He has been in double figures in 20 of 25 games.
--The Rockets’ 32.1 shooting percentage was the 12th lowest by a Wolves opponent in franchise history.
--Greg Stiemsma and Lou Amundson were the only two players of the nine Wolves who played not to score. Six of the remaining seven were in double figures.
That’s about it for now. I’ll get back to you Sunday.
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