Shootaround Access: Wolves vs. Hawks

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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It seems like almost every night the Wolves have stepped out on the court over the past four weeks, they’ve faced a team that is in the top 10 in transition points per game—and that’s not a far stretch. When the Wolves face Atlanta tonight, it will be the sixth team over the last 3 ½ weeks that currently resides in the top 10 in fast break points.

The Hawks are sixth in the league heading into tonight’s 7 p.m. tipoff at Target Center, and their unselfish play and strong defensive nature likely means the Timberwolves will need to be on their toes in that department.

“A lot of teams are starting to pick up the fast pace and capitalize on turnovers,” forward Derrick Williams said. “As long as we limit those, it’s going to be a good game.”

No question, the Wolves will have their hands full with the athletic brand of basketball Atlanta brings each night.

The Hawks have climbed into third place in the Eastern Conference thanks to that combination of facilitating the ball and playing solid defense. They’re currently fourth in the NBA in assists per game (23.3) and they’re sixth in scoring defense, holding opponents to 95.1 points per game.

Much of that has to do with the quickness this team brings across the board. Already with point guard Jeff Teague on the roster, the Hawks brought in shooting guard Lou Williams this offseason after a strong campaign with Philadelphia a year ago.

Add in Kyle Korver’s sharpshooting from the perimeter and the athleticism Josh Smith and Al Horford bring down low and Atlanta has a lot of different options on where to take shots in the half court as well as spring out in transition.

And given Atlanta has lost three of four games leading into tonight, the Wolves expect to get their best in trying to get back on track.

“They’re a very well-balanced team,” Andrei Kirilenko said. “They have guys who can post, they have guys who can shoot. They have guys won can drive. They play a very team game, swing the ball a lot. They don’t’ have one guy that lays only one on one and isolated on the side. They play very team-oriented, and that’s why it’s going to be very difficult to beat this team. That’s why they have a good record.”

The Hawks, meanwhile, enter tonight knowing it won’t be easy facing a Wolves team that is 9-5 at home and is attempting to hang tight in the Western Conference playoff race despite a slew of injuries throughout the first two months of the season.

Center Al Horford said even without two-time All-Star Kevin Love, who is scheduled to fly to New York tomorrow to have his hand looked at by hand specialist Dr. Any Weiland, the Timberwolves present their own set of problems on a nightly basis. The key will be containing Minnesota’s perimeter. The Timberwolves haven’t shot the ball well from distance this year, but when they’ve gotten hot—particularly J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved and Luke Ridnour—the Wolves have posed problems for teams coming through Target Center.

“We’re aware of their guard play, how good they are,” Horford said. “We’re aware of [Nikola] Pekovic and how good they are inside. We know they’re a handful. We have to go out tonight and battle. They’re a great team. They play great at home and they have guys like Kirilenko that make a big difference.”

Quick Hits

  • Wolves center Nikola Pekovic confirmed today he will play tonight against the Hawks, echoing what President of Basketball Operations David Kahn said yesterday after practice. Pekovic suffered a left hip strain against the Trail Blazers on Saturday.

  • Wolves forward Andrei Kirilenko enters tonight’s game one steal shy of 1,000 and one assist shy of 2,000 for his career. He already has 1,417 blocks for his career. Should he reach those two milestones tonight, he would become the 15th player with 1,000 steals, 1,000 blocks and 2,000 assists in his career.

    If he reaches 1,000 steals, 2,000 assists and 1,500 blocks, he would be just the eight player in NBA history to do so, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Kevin Garnett, Robert Parish, David Robinson and Vlade Divac.

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