Monday, October 25, 2010

Are the Timberwolves for Real I?

The Timberwolves are winning, said Jerry Zgoda in yesterday's Sunday Strib. But can they keep it up? Are the for real, Sid wanted to know.

Well, are they?

David Kahn said last summer that there was no question the Wolves' roster was better than the one he'd inherited. Not so fast, I said.

I mean, Darko over Big Al? Heck, the Wolves went 2-24 down the stretch last year with Milicic starting in the post.

Okay, sure, Kevin Love is bound to be better than Kevin Love was. But, but....

Well, but, nuthin.' Now that the Wolves have finished the pre-season at 6-2--and, specifically, with a miraculous come-from-behind win at Milwaukee--it seems clear that Kahn was right. The Wolves are better at at least 4 spots, and the whole compares to the sum of the parts in ways that Wolves' fans have only dreamed about for 20 years.


Well, one answer is Love, who leads the Wolves with 18 points and 11 boards per game. But at crunch-time in Milwaukee, it seemed always to be the new point man, Luke Ridnour, who was making it happen. The Wolves trailed by 10 early, and Ridnour brought 'em back with a steal and an assist. Then, down by 15 in the 2nd, Ridnour scored 8 over a 2:30 span to get 'em back within 2. Down 10 going into the 4th, Ridnour scored 2 points but added 4 assists over 8 minutes.

The bottom line is, when Wolves games have been decided in the 4th quarter, they've generally gone the other way. Now it was the Wolves coming on strong, out-scoring the Bucks 22-12 through 3:07 of the 4th to tie it up for the 1st time since 72-72. And when they went ahead 109-107 with the 1st points of the OT, it was their 1st lead since 2-0. And after falling behind again, 118-112 with just 2:05 left in OT, the Wolves stormed back with the game's last 7 points. And who but Ridnour won it with 3 FT with 1 tick left on the clock.

But getting back to the question of the day, are the Wolves for real? Well, this was a revenge game for Ridnour, who spent the last 2 years with the Bucks and at the Bradley Center. Can he do this every night? You know, take over the game, be the #1 star? No. He finished the game with 17 points and 7 assists. For the pre-season the numbers are just 10 and 5 and he's shooting just .383. And his back-up, Sebastien Telfair has more assists, 5.2 to 4.8 per game, and less than 1/3 as many turnovers.

Still, the bottom line on Ridnour is he leads the Wolves in minutes with 28, and they're 6-2.

But meanwhile, scoring from the Wolves' vaunted 2 and 3 spots has all but dried up. Michael Beasley scored 21 points twice in the 1st 3 games, then only got into double figures twice the rest of the way with 12 and 10. Martell Webster got hurt. Wesley Johnson's shooting percentage dropped out of the stratosphere--well above 60 percent after 3 games--to a more rookie-like .426. But Wayne Ellington came on, scoring 48 in the last 3 outings.

Still, the bottom line is the Wolves won 15 games last year with Milicic, Love, Brewer, Ellington and coach Rambis. They've still got to show that they've improved when it matters--the regular season. Kevin McHale says they're better, but only enough to lose closer games. They could be a lot more competitive on the court and not win much many more games.

Some have said that the Wolves could play .500 ball. I'm not buyin' that. I said earlier that 30 wins would be a worthy goal. I mean, it ain't 40, but neither is it 15. Ad the keys wold seem to be Ridnour, Telfair and, when he returns from an injury, the incumbent point Jonny Flynn, if he can muscle his way back into the lineup.

And, the Wolves will need that perimeter scoring. They got plenty over the 1st few games but, since then, they've gotten a lot less and they've still won. After Wednesday they're going to need Beasley and Johnson to play like they did in those 1st 3 games or Webster to come back from his imjury faster than anticiped.

Still there's lots of reasons for optimism, and I think 30 games still sounds about right started with the Kings here on Wednesday night.

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