Coming into this game, both teams could have been forgiven for thinking they were looking in the mirror. Different stylistically but the state of these franchises are eerily similar. Both are frequent doormats looking to emerge, led by stars who have never enjoyed the postseason lights. These similarities may not last long though, the perception at least is set to shift as Washington most likely will make the playoffs in the weak East as Minnesota remain in the balance.
Having conceded a 9-0 run to start the game, the Timberwolves returned to slowly take control of the match via Kevin Love’s shooting and Washington’s generosity in possession. A concern in the past few weeks, Rubio responded with an improved, asserted game which whilst still far from perfect was more than adequate in the Timberwolves search for a home win. Looking very comfortable on offense, he drew fouls on his drives to the rim, a usual marker of a good Rubio game, he finished with 11 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. This was all the more impressive as he was up against an underrated, yet rather intimidating opponent.
John Wall is having his best season and is currently in the curious club of famous, high draft picks who somehow go under the radar and end up becoming underrated. Let no mistake be made, John Wall runs this team from start to finish, leading the league in touches per game (100.7!) and second in points created per game with 22 (Chris Paul is out in front with 25.6). He was excellent in this matchup but his production (26 points, seven assists, four rebounds) was met by Minnesota’s own leader, Love, who finished the game with 25 points and 11 rebounds (a league leading 26th double-double of the season).
Truth be told, the Wizards never really maintained the energy levels defensively to stay alive in this one. After a close start, the Wolves ran away with a 39 points 2nd quarter and the game was theirs from then on. Whilst the Wolves received meaningful contributions from their starting 5 the Wizards struggled with a frontcourt of Gortat and Nene who were outhustled and outplayed throughout the game. Meanwhile, Barea and Shved provided influential performances off the bench with their strongest play in recent memory, the type of simple execution of offense with the 2nd units that made a big difference in the outcome of the game.
The most positive aspect of this game for a Wolves fan has to be the sedate nature of it all. This was not an exciting affair, it drifted by without any feeling of event or spectacle. It was a win that good teams regularly enjoy, a comfortable game at home won by a strong first three quarters before cruise control is switched on and the reserves step in for the final minutes. It may not make for viewing like last Sunday’s Clippers game, but this was a step in the right direction for Minnesota.
Tonight, they travel to Milwaukee and although a road game on the 2nd night of a back-to-back is never easy, they will be expected to beat the worst team in the NBA. Working as a heavy favorite isn’t always that simple, but if they can be anywhere near as efficient as they were tonight, they should come away from Milwaukee with a win.
As for the Wizards, the best team won this game, but despite this result it is Minnesota that has more work to do to shift it’s current path towards the postseason.