Practice Report: Monday, March 25, 2013
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The Wolves were one of the slowest NBA teams to reach 30 games played, but they’re making up for it now.
Including last night’s loss to Chicago, the Wolves will play six games in eight days, including three consecutive from March 29 to April 1. Add in the back-to-backs at Sacramento and Phoenix last week, and they’ll have eight games in 12 days heading into the final two weeks of the season.
And the opponents aren’t weaklings, either. The Lakers, Celtics, Grizzlies and Thunder will all visit Target Center over the next seven days, four teams that are currently seeded as playoff entrants.
The Thunder is currently the No.2 seed in the West at 52-19, just 1 ½ games behind the Spurs for the top spot in the Western Conference. Memphis is 47-22 and have cooled off a bit since winning 14 of 15 from Feb. 8 through March 13. The Celtics (36-33) and Lakers (36-34) are currently seventh and eighth seeds, respectively, but have a pedigree of excellence and are fighting for their playoff lives. Those four teams are 6-1 against Minnesota this year.
“We can’t do anything about the schedule,” Kirilenko said. “Most NBA teams go through it, and we are no exception. So we are going to get ready.”
Adelman looks farther into April to find another tough stretch, one where the Wolves will play four games in five days.
“They give us three home games that one week, we’re on a back-to-back and then we’ve got Oklahoma City and Memphis. That’s a real easy task,” Adelman joked.
“But that’s the way it is. The schedule is the way it is, and if we want to win games, we’re going to have to earn it.”
That’s the mentality the Wolves need to take going into this stretch, and they also need to view it as an opportunity to develop and grow. This is the healthiest the team has been since early December, and with guys like Chase Budinger getting minutes and working himself back into game-form, Minnesota could surprise a few teams trying to make headway in the playoff hunt. They’ll get all four of those teams at home, where Minnesota has won 16 of its 24 games.
One spot in particular the Wolves could showcase improvement is defensively. They were a league-leader through the first month of the season in opponents points per game—hovering near the top and within the top 5 heading into December, even sitting at fourth in the NBA with 93.8 points against per game on Dec. 17—but they currently sit 15th at 97.8 points per game. For a team that’s averaging 94.8 points a night for the year, seeing some improvement on the defensive end down the stretch could go a long way.
Luke Ridnour's versatility
The only Minnesota player to have played in every game this season is Luke Ridnour — a 6-foot-1 guard who has been forced to play out of position for more than a year now.
“It’s been incredible,” coach Adelman said. “I think the last year and a half he’s had to play that spot for us. He just battles every night. He’s got taller guys on him every night, and it’s hard to get a shot off. But he never has complained.”
Ridnour, a natural point guard and 10-year NBA veteran, has been playing at shooting guard dating back to last season. He’s several inches shorter than most shooting guards in the league, but he doesn’t let the difference affect him.
“He has a lot of experience in this league, and he knows how to play basketball,” teammate Andrei Kirilenko said at Monday’s team practice. “He knows how to guard guys out of his height, out of his position. He is doing a really good job. Even with the big guys, it’s a matter of choosing position.”
Ridnour’s situation is born out of necessity. Once Brandon Roy, Malcolm Lee and Chase Budinger all went down with serious injuries, he and rookie Alexey Shved were the last men standing.
“We just don’t have any size there,” Adelman added. “Alexey’s the biggest guy we have there, but he’s inexperienced, and he hasn’t played the two guard much in his career either.”
Through 68 games this year, Ridnour has started each contest and averages 11.9 PPG.