Shootaround Access: Wolves vs. Pacers
Email / Twitter
Defense has been the Timberwolves’ calling card early on this season—while the offense has its ups and down, defense has kept Minnesota in position to win games and is a big reason why the Wolves are 3-1 heading into tonight’s home contest against the Pacers.
Through four games Minnesota is giving up 89.0 points per night, good for fourth in the NBA, and have the eighth-best points differential at plus-4.8. They showed their attention to defense during much of Wednesday’s 90-75 win over the Magic; even during a dismal offensive second quarter in which the Wolves 25 percent from the field and scored just 13 points, Minnesota never trailed in the contest and, at one point, led by 27.
Much of that dominance came near the basket, where Orlando’s starting power forward/center combo of Glen Davis and Nikola Vucevic combined to shoot 3-for-13 with a combined six points. Davis, who scored four points, is averaging 20.6 per game this season. But tonight against the Pacers a whole new challenge awaits. All-Stars David West and Roy Hibbert can bring it on the boards and on the scoreboard, and containing those two down low will be a challenge for the Wolves, who are third in the league with a plus-11.3 points in the paint differential.
With forward Danny Granger out, Wolves forward Derrick Williams said he expects players like West to be even more of a factor in Indiana’s offensive sets. But Williams said he’s up for the challenge.
He said over his past four games he’s really focused in on defense, and it’s why he thinks his minutes are increasing. His goal is to keep opposing power forward to 10 points or less each night, and West is the next he’ll face in that venture.
“David West can really shoot; he likes to drive,” Williams said. “He does a little bit of both. He’s been an All-Star, and they play really physical. We just have to be ready, that’s really it. They like to attack.”
When it comes to protecting the basket, center Greg Stiemsma and forward Andrei Kirilenko have been leading the way. Each are tied for the team lead in blocked shots at 2.5 per night, and their mentality around the rim has made a difference on a Timberwolves’ squad trying to transform its defensive identity from a year ago.
Stiemsma said once you put a defensive mindset with good technique, success will follow.
“Even before I signed they wanted someone who can come in and protect the rim,” Stiemsma said. “And that was a role I thought I could fill. Then we bring in guys like D.C. [Dante Cunningham], AK, who can guard anybody. We’ve got a pretty talented group of guys that can do a lot of different things.”
That identity is beginning to surface around the NBA, and it’s something the Pacers have on their radar heading into tonight. Pacers guard David West said this is a different Wolves team on that end of the court.
“They’ve added some defensive minded players like Kirilenko, Cunningham and Stiemsma, and they’ve changed the identity of the ballclub,” West said. “Obviously [JJ] Barea and his experience up top is something that we’ve got to be prepared for. We’ve just got to be ready to come in here and put a good game together.”
Roy Keeps Assists Coming
Wolves forward Brandon Roy continues to adjust physically during his comeback, acknowledging that the rigors of the NBA season are part of the process he’ll need to endure. The Wolves are nearing the end of five games in seven days, with practices in between, and Roy is getting acclimated to life back in the league on the fly. But although he admits he feels early-season fatigue, he said there is no pain in his knees so far.
“Every time you talk about it to the trainers and coaches, this is what we expected, especially early,” Roy said. “I just need to continue to stay positive and keep moving forward.”
As he adjusts, his offense is taking a new direction. The three-time All-Star has always been known for his scoring, but through four games he’s leading the Timberwolves with 5.5 assists per game. He had a game-high nine assists on Wednesday against Orlando.
Roy said he continues to get acquainted with where his teammates will be on the floor, and the system the Wolves are running really makes it possible to move the ball and facilitate.
“That’s one of the biggest reasons why I do like the offense is there is a lot of opportunities for assists,” Roy said. “I thought coming into this situation, I thought the scoring will come, and I’m not worried about that. But right now I’m noticing where guys want to be at and noticing where Pek [Nikola Pekovic] likes to flash and how Luke [Ridnour] wants to space the floor. So I’m just continuing to pick the offense up and there are a lot of opportunities to get more assists, and I’m just trying to do those things.”
- Wolves guard JJ Barea’s status for tonight’s game is still in question, as he did not speak to the media after this morning’s shootaround. Barea suffered a left mid-foot sprain during the second half of Wednesday’s win while chasing a ball out of bounds and crashing into the scorer’s table.