With Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic all out with injuries, and with other key players from a year ago either traded or dispatched — as we wrote the other day, the top seven in minutes played this year for the Wolves is completely different from the top seven in minutes played last year — Minnesota went from a .500 team that had a chance to win almost every game to a squad that couldn’t compete most nights.
When Pekovic returned a week ago, there were glimpses of more watchable basketball. On offense, he creates space and works the glass. He’s never been a great defensive player, but he’ll give a credible effort and take up space. He gave the Wolves better flow on both ends.
Another piece returned Wednesday, with Martin coming back and getting 21 points in his return. Just like Pek, Martin creates space on offense, scores in a way nobody else on the roster can score, and at least knows where he is supposed to be on the defensive end even if he’s limited.
The result was a 110-98 win over Boston. Yes, the Celtics looked like a tired team in the final game of a six-game road trip. Even at full strength, Boston is a bad team. But the Wolves, on many nights before the return of Pek and Martin, struggled against any team — good, bad, tired, fresh, you name it.
We at least have a glimpse, now, of the preseason vision. Andrew Wiggins is more fully developed now than he was three months ago. Shabazz Muhammad, who is out with an injury as well, looks to be another key piece going forward. Zach LaVine, raw but with ability, showed Wednesday when he can do in spurts.
The Wolves were in control of the entire second half — and had enough fun for Thad Young to play with Wiggins’ ear in the postgame locker room interview session.
When the Wolves get Rubio and Muhammad back, we still don’t think they will “shock a lot of people,” as Martin said the Wolves were poised to do before all the injuries.
But already Wednesday, they looked competent and played their most watchable game in months.