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Love's numbers grand, game incomplete

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Charley Rosen

Charley Rosen is FOXSports.com's NBA analyst and author of 17 sports books, the current ones being Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees and Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds.

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Game time: Thunder 118, Timberwolves 117 (OT)

The astounding stats routinely registered by Kevin Love have been a newsworthy subplot of the season thus far. And his business-as-usual, 31-point, 21-rebound performance in the T-wolves’ 118-117, OT loss to the Thunder demonstrated what Love can and cannot do.

CAN DO

The young man has terrific hands — strong and quick. If he can touch the ball, it belongs to him. He also has terrific instincts in tracking down missed shots at both ends of the court, habitually using one shoulder to bang his opponent and create space for himself in the prime real estate in the paint. Brawny put-backs were responsible for four of his baskets.

Love is frequently used as a high-post ball-reverser, and his passes are usually well-conceived and well-executed. Indeed, one of his two assists came on a beautiful entry pass from a poor straightaway angle into Anthony Tolliver. Plus, Love’s bullet-like, on-target outlet passes are reminiscent of Wes Unseld’s legendary specialty.

Love’s screens are sturdy ones, especially on handoffs. Three of his buckets came on the receiving end of screen/rolls. And his soft 3-point shots (3 of 3 in this game) make his screens-and-pops extremely dangerous. In addition, Love’s quick release enables him to catch and shoot for profit.

When assuming a position in the low or mid post, Love likes to turn and face. In the last minute of regulation, he scored important baskets on a quick dash along the baseline for a dunk and then a nifty drive left, culminating in a spinning, right-handed jump hook. Both big-time moves.

Love routinely hustled downcourt in transition defense, even when an opponent ran away from his pursuers for an uncontested breakaway dunk. Love was also the primary cause in four layups missed by the visitors by virtue of providing excellent defensive rotations.

Though he’s not a go-to scorer (Michael Beasley has this responsibility), Love’s power and anticipation still make him a dependable auxiliary point-maker.

CAN’T DO

Love’s lack of slick moves makes him a poor finisher in heavy traffic, which is why he missed five semi-complicated layups.

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Except for his two last-minute drives, Love demonstrated no explosiveness in his pivotal attacks on the rim. He’d rather shoot mid-range jumpers (0 for 2) or jump hooks (1 for 3, including an airball that would have won the game) than take his dribble into the lane.

Love’s post-up defense consists of sticking his arm topside, but not using his body to force his opponent away from the hoop. Plus, his limited lateral movement down there makes him susceptible to changes of direction. That’s how Nenad Krstic registered two reverse-spin jumpers early in the game. In all, Love’s slow-footed defense was touched for 10 points — a considerable amount considering the Thunder never pointed their offense directly at him.

In the waning moments of the fourth quarter, Love was late arriving in a help situation, thereby enabling Russell Westbrook to score an important layup.

As ever, the T-wolves played hard but were unable to close the deal. Turnovers and mental mistakes were once again their downfall. Discounting a pair of charges drawn by Luke Ridnour and Beasley, Minnesota failed to offer much defensive resistance in the clutch. This was especially true when it came to at least making Kevin Durant (47 huge points) work hard to create good looks.

Love’s output extended his streak of double-doubles to 31 consecutive games. Too bad Minnesota has lost 25 of these contests.

There are several reasons for this: Beasley’s being the only player who can create shots off the dribble, which means the team mostly depends on perpetual player and ball movement to generate open looks. No reliable low-post scoring. Too many young, mistake-prone players on the roster. Faulty team defense with meager basket protection.

Along with the unavoidable realization that despite his outstanding game-to-game numbers and his considerable skills, Kevin Love is really a complimentary player.

RANTS

• In failing to complete the trade of Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey, the Nuggets front office missed a layup. There was little doubt that Mikhail Prokhorov would have done whatever it took to entice Melo to Brooklyn via Newark, and the deal was all wrapped up and ready to go. But the Nuggets got too greedy, demanding an extra first-round draft pick, insisting the Nets also accept a host of garbage contracts. And so on and on … Plus, Denver’s rookie wheel-less dealers, Josh Kroenke and Masai Ujiri, seemed too frightened to pull the trigger.

Midseason awards

The NBA doesn't hand out any honors at the halfway point of the season. That doesn't stop us.

In addition, these two guys were deeply offended when several details of the proposed deal were repeatedly leaked to the media. But with up to 15 players involved, along with an equal number of agents, there was no way to keep a lid on the bargaining.

Even if Prokhorov’s public about-face is merely a clever ploy to force Denver to reduce its previous demands, the bird that the Nuggets had in hand will have flown away.

The ultimate result is the Nuggets’ season is totally wasted. All because of timidity, inexperience and also because Kroenke and Ujiri acted as though Melo is the second coming of Michael Jordan.

• The Mavs are nuts if they think Peja Stojakovic can help them. While Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are infamous for failing to deliver when critical playoff games are on the line, the newest Mav is one of the biggest postseason chokers in recent memory.

Disregarding his totally inept defense, Stojakovic averages 17.3 points during the regular season and 16.2 in the playoffs and 1.8 assists compared with 1.1, and his .450 shooting percentage drops to .419 in the playoffs. In addition, his 3-point accuracy is likewise diminished — .400 to .376.

Plus anybody who has witnessed his postseason play has no need of statistics to prove Peja’s habitual dismal performances.

Adding Stojakovic is akin to adding more sand to a desert.

RAVES

• After my critical observations of him as an undergraduate, I am both surprised and chagrined by how well Blake Griffin has played in the NBA.

In any event, his scoring and rebounding heroics have energized all of his teammates and have, at long last, enabled the Clippers to experience a meaningful season.

• The Nets are not a very good club. Their centerpiece performer, Brook Lopez, has a nice touch along with slow-developing but effective moves in the paint. But he can’t defend, rebound or safely put the ball on the floor in even a modest crowd. New Jersey’s hot-shot point guard, Devin Harris, is quick and all that, but still can’t run an offense.

New Jersey’s supporting cast consists of one- or at best two-dimensional role players.

Even so, no matter what the score might be, Avery Johnson always has his charges playing hard from jump ball to buzzer. With or without Melo, the Nets have a pocketful of top-of-the-line draft picks and a vault full of rubles, virtually guaranteeing they will achieve solid mediocrity by the time franchise moves to Brooklyn.

Tagged: Mavericks, Nuggets, Timberwolves, Nets, Thunder, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez

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