Simons Says - Oct. 31, 2013
For starters, it’s clear that fans like you and me and all the others watch and live through an NBA game entirely differently than a player. The lead changes, the high and lows and everything in between in that a 48-minute dash. And in particular, the close shaves as was experienced at Target Center on the Timberwolves 25th season opener.
Orlando was in to start the party. On paper, fodder for a revamped Wolves roster that is as explosive as it is athletic, as youthful as it is now veteran. This is as good as any Wolves team in the past decade and a seemingly perfect fit to end that 10-year playoff drought. The Magic just didn’t get the message that it was our night.
For days, the Wolves were getting strong shares of radio gaga, fans giddy of a potential winning season and excited about seeing their horses running together, injury free. And early, there was no disappointing.
You know the Wolves won. In Overtime. High drama behind Kevin Love’s 3-ball straight down to move the home team from regulation to an extra session. The Wolves led by 17 in the first half, the lead slipped away in the second and it was back and forth. Good reason for fans watching at home to pace, good reason for fans in the Target Center seats to get up for a bathroom break. But no cause for alarm to #42.
Players just don’t see it the same as us, watching. Love was never fazed, not a shred of nervousness. Steady as the big fella goes. A “W” was the only thing he could see. As Love saw it, “I knew we would win the whole time. I told the guys with 2-3 minutes left that it was gonna be a learning experience for us, and they agreed, so I think they would all be with me on that, and It's just a game of ups and downs."
Ups and downs. That’s what you call it. One of the newest Wolves, Kevin Martin, backed up Love’s confidence. "Yeah, K Love told me he was gonna get me another chance in the OT and that's what he did, I couldn't let him down. It was fun out there to just get the first game out of the way."
Fun too at the final the buzzer. But you know, if you’ve hung with the Wolves through the valleys and the few peaks, you have to be excited about the possibilities this season. There are options here folks. Love, for example, delivered with a game-high 31 points and 17 rebounds. Since joining the NBA in 2008, only Houston’s Dwight Howard (23) has recorded more 30pt/15rb games. Love recorded a league-high 48 double-doubles in 2011-12, including pulling down 14 in 18 games last season.
How about his supporting cast. Ricky Rubio looks ready for prime time. Rubio’s shot looks better, he appears more confident and ready to fire and his Opening night was strong with 13 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and three steals. Wolves P-R standouts tell me that against Orlando, Rubio recorded his 22nd consecutive game with at least one steal, the second longest
active streak in the league (Golden State’s Andre Iguodala, 28). I personally like the way super scorer Kevin Martin fought off Opening Night gremlins. Sluggish early, K-Mart rocked when it mattered with blue light busters from all over the court. #23 tallied 23 points (what other number would he hit?) in his Timberwolves debut and it’s clear why Flip Saunders and coach Rick Adelman like him. Martin’s 7 points (2-of-2 from the floor adding 3-for-3 from the charity stripe in OT) were key. Don’t foul the man either….he’s bulls-eye baby from the foul line after finishing 9-for-9.
I’m glad that a more mature Corey Brewer is back. His 16 points (7-for-11 from the floor) were big but did you see him flying around the floor? Nothing superstitious about wearing #13…Brewer’s game is
energy, it’s savvy and he’s grown into an extremely reliable player. What will be signatures of success for this team, this season, will be these five elements:
1. Tempo. This is not your Dad’s Wolves. Rick Adelman’s team will scat and score. In and out. They will need that in a conference with fellow cheetahs OKC, LA Clippers, Golden State, Houston and more.
2. Ball movement. There were times in the Opener when the run gates were closed. The Wolves can find the open player and led by one of the games best passers (Rubio), this should only get better. One other note…about how players see the game differently than us. Players all love to score but most, if not all, will tell you there’s nothing sweeter than delivering a great assist for a teammate. That’s this team.
3. Defensive improvement. As they get more games under their belts, this Wolves renovation project will move into its next phase. Orlando presented a few problems but you can bet the schedule ahead will offer more.
4. Confidence. Important early to get wins. The tough schedule out of the gate could be a major building block if wins outnumber losses.
5. All the scoring options. Love, Rubio, Nikola Pekovic in the middle, K-Mart, JJ Barea off the bench (11 points, 4 assists) and how about Dante Cunningham (10 points, 6 rebounds). You’ll need that help as the season rolls out.
The Timberwolves took first steps in their Opener. Over the next week, they’ll tangle with beasts. OKC Friday at home then hit the road to the Knicks in the Big Apple and Kyrie Irving and Cleveland 24 hours later. Such is the grind.
But for a guy who’s won Olympic Gold but never tasted the playoffs in his five NBA seasons. A guy who had to practice extreme patience while missing 64 of 82 games due to injury last season. And a guy who wants to win now, Kevin Love looks as ready as ever. "We know what we have to do. Yeah, we have a really tough road in November, so these next 3 games here, OKC, Knicks, Cavs are gonna be tough games so we're happy to get the first one out of the way. They showed a lot of resilience down in that locker room, especially to come back from such a deficit. I think we're just happy to get the first game in general, win or lose. We all know Friday night at target center against OKC is going to be an electric crowd"
Here’s to Wolves in their 25th NBA season. Great start. Here’s to more!
SIMONSSAYS SHORT TAKES
One can’t minimize what it means to have a leader guiding the ship. Quietly, Flip Saunders sent a message to his Timberwolves staff before tip-off against Orlando. Saunders gave every Wolves staff member, coach and player symbolic and tangible momentos of the work to be done. They’re called “We're Ready” coins that are two-sided and meant to symbolize unity. After all that this Franchise has been through, for the boss to give these to the entire “team”, that speaks volumes.
Also great to see WNBA Champion Lynx guard Seimone Augustus on hand with Coach Cheryl Reeve at the Opener. Seimone will join us soon on GameON! TV and she’s still basking in the love that is a 2nd title in three seasons and being named All-WNBA Second Team.
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