It's that time of year when a team's prospects can go from zero to 60 and back again in a hurry. Just last Sunday the young Orlando Magic, rebuilding after the loss of Dwight Howard, were 2-0 and feeling pretty good about themselves. That same night the Minnesota Timberwolves trailed the Brooklyn Nets 71-49 in the 3rd quarter, and look every bit the part of a mediocre 1-2 club.
Instead the Wolves put a miraculous comeback on the Nets, out-scoring them 32-10 in the 4th quarter to win. Then on Monday Orlando lost for the 1st time in Chicago. And now, after the Wolves put a big hurt on the Magic, Orlando is a mediocre 2-2 while Minnesota is 3-1 and it is the Wolves who are feelin' all right.
Yet the Wolves struggled for 2-and-a-half quarters. An early 25-10 lead was dissipated as Minnesota missed its next 12 shots and turned it over 5 times. By half-time Orlando was back within 38-34.
It was more of the same in the 2nd. The Magic scored the 1st bucket of the 2nd half to make it 38-36, then the Wolves ripped off a 15-4 run for a 53-40 lead. Sure enough, Orlando clawed back to within 58-53.
But now...Minnesota closed the 3rd with a 10-2 run for a 68-55 edge, then followed it up with an 18-4 advantage over the 1st half of the 4th quarter. 86-59 at 5:11, game over. Back-up post Greg Stiemsma keyed the 28-6 run with 4 buckets in just 1:14 in the final minute of the 3rd and the 1st minute of the 4th period. J.J. Barea assisted on all 4 of Steimsma's buckets.
Stiemsma finished with 10 points, 3 boards and a block during the run, while Chase Budinger added 8 points and Alexei Shved 3 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
For the night Luke Ridnour led the Wolves with 19 points, while Derrick Williams, Stiemsma, Nikola Pekovich and Budinger also scored in double figures. Williams added 6 boards and 2 steals. Brandon Roy scored just 3 points but added 9 assists.
The Wolves slowed the tempo just a bit on the run 'n gun Magic, making it a 90 possession game vs. Orlando's 3 game average of 100 possessions. Minnesota shot a respectable 45% and shot better than 50% in the 1st, 3rd and 4th quarters while making just 5-of-19 in the 2nd. Orlando shot just 35% and a miserable 35% on 2-pointers.
Ridnour was the Wolves' best player, running the show for 31 minutes and badly out-playing Orlando's E'Twaun Moore, starting in place of the oft-injured Jameer Nelson. Ridnour sometimes gets manhandled, but against guys his own size he is a heady, steady, smart guy who takes what the defense gives. As was the case last night.
Then came Derrick Williams, who was solid in every phase of the game, which came as frankly a bit of a surprise. And he certainly was Mr. Highlight Reel among a bunch of guys who are more stiletto than sledgehammer.
Then I would say Budinger and Kirilenko at the small forward. They didn't have a great night offensively, but combined to hold Orlando's leading scorer, Glen "Baby" Davis, to just 4 points.
Then came the posts, Pekovic and Steimsma, with 23 points between 'em. I would have to guess that the "points in the paint" were decisively slanted toward Minnesota. Orlando's starting front line scored a total of 13 points.
It was a tougher night for guards Brandon Roy, Shved and Barea. Roy and Shved were out-scored by the Magic's off-guards Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick 28-10, but they did contribute 12 assists. And in fairness, Roy was #2 on the +/- chart after D. Williams at +19. But his shot looks forced, he just doesn't look comfortable out there,
But if we're talking about uncomfortable, there's the Orlando Magic, who would appear to be a truly dreadful NBA team. Maybe the loss of Jameer Nelson is that big of a deal, or maybe they really are dreadful. The fact is the Wolves sleepwalked through large portions of this game, yet led 86-59 in the 4th. The final was 90-75, but in reality it was nowhere near that close.