Timberwolves learn a lot from first exhibition game
OCT 07, 2013 11:53p ET
Just what a coach wants in his preseason opener.
"No," Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said with a dry chuckle. "No."
Take Derrick Williams' performance as the quintessential summation of Minnesota's first 2013-14 test, a 108-106 overtime loss to Russian professional power CSKA Moscow. The forward spent most of crunch time with the ball in his hands, slicing to the rim with decisive authority and winding up with a team-high 21 points -- 10 of which came in the fourth quarter.
But he also failed on two putback dunks down the stretch and missed three-of-four free throws inside the final 1 minute, 11 seconds of the extra session. That helped lift CSKA to just the third-ever victory by a Euroleague club against an NBA team in its own arena.
"Twice he tried to make the one-handed slam, the hero play," Adelman said of Williams. "He needs to just grab it with two hands and put it in the basket. I think that's just something you've got to learn."
After the first 48 minutes of what's supposed to be a resurgent 25th Timberwolves season, there's plenty more than that.
The Timberwolves' three returning starters must learn how to mesh together again. Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer have to learn their places in that mix. And whoever has the hot hand needs to learn to finish.
They're fine lessons for the preseason. But shades of a disappointing 2012-13 campaign weren't what anyone wanted to see Monday night at the Target Center.
"Exhibitions are about seeing where you are," Adelman said, "and I think we saw a lot tonight."
Minnesota's starting five -- Brewer, Martin, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic, to no one's surprise -- played together the first nine minutes or so of each of the first and third periods. They got off to a sluggish start, missing six of their first 22 field-goal attempts and allowing CSKA to lead by as many as 18 points midway through the second quarter.
Brought in as an unrestricted free agent to shore up the Timberwolves' scoring nucleus, Martin looked particularly rusty. He scored 16 points but missed 10 of his 15 shots, misconnecting on long 3s and forcing awkward, off-balance jumpers.
Love had a quiet night, too, scoring nine points and tallying seven rebounds.
"Our starters didn't come here ready to play at all tonight," Adelman said.
It was the second wave of Minnesota players -- the one that's reportedly given the top guys all they can handle through a week of preseason workouts -- that kept things even throughout the final two quarters after the Timberwolves mounted a 26-11 run to close the first half and bring the Timberwolves within 3 at the break. Williams took over for Brewer on the wing during that stretch and showed signs of the flex forward Adelman hopes he can become in Year 3 of his NBA career.
Guards A.J. Price and Othyus Jeffers, both of whom are fighting for the final spot on Minnesota's 15-man roster, acquitted themselves well during a fourth quarter that saw five ties and five lead changes. Price notched eight points in the frame and six more during overtime to finish with 14, and Jeffers chipped in a handful of the energy-infusing hustle plays he's become known for during camp -- most notably a reverse baseline jam that knotted the score with 5:14 left in regulation.
"We had a lot of opportunities tonight," said Williams, who added he'll shoot about 100 extra free throws this weekend. "We did a pretty good job. We got on the ball when we had to. It's the first preseason game, doesn't count on anybody's record, but I thought we played well."
Not well enough defensively.
Too often, CKSA ball movement that had to render Adelman a little jealous either created a mismatch down low or left a visitor wide open on the wing or in the corner. The Euroleague juggernaut had 30 assists, with guard Milos Teodosic serving as the primary beneficiary and scoring a game-high 26 points.
"That's why it's one of the best teams in Russia," said Timberwolves guard Alexey Shved, who played for CSKA before signing with Minnesota last summer.
It wasn't the reunion Shved had hoped for. The second-year pro went 2-for-12 from the floor -- 1-of-6 from long range -- thanks in large part to ill-advised, fadeaway jumpers. His one successful 3-point try gave the Timberwolves a 92-88 advantage -- their largest all night -- but was an anomaly, not the norm.
"Terrible," Shved said of his shooting.
He wasn't alone.
The NBA's worst 3-point-producing team of a year ago made just 4 of 21 attempts. Martin, Love and Brewer combined to hit 3 of 10.
It should be noted CSKA opened training camp more than a month ago, while Minnesota's commenced last Tuesday. The differences in condition and cohesion were apparent from the outset.
"You can tell," said Rubio, who scored 10 points and handed out three assists. "They've been together for longer than us, and they know each other better.
Said CSKA coach Ettore Messina: "It was like a little medal for us."
It all leaves much to be desired when Minnesota takes on the Raptors on Wednesday in Toronto.
"Right now, we've got a lot we need to improve on," said Love, who saw his first game action since Jan. 3 after missing most of last year with a broken hand. "On both sides of the ball."
Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter