Wolves, Shved taking tuneup vs. CSKA Moscow seriously
OCT 07, 2013 10:52a ET
Antawn Jamison had a sprained left knee. Anthony Parker sat out with sprained fingers. Mo Williams nursed an aching groin. Anderson Varejao missed time with an ankle injury and for personal reasons.
A guy named LeBron James had bolted for South Beach that summer.
Cleveland's misfortunes and a well-constructed CSKA Moscow roster fused together that night in Ohio to forge the first victory on American soil by a European professional club. It's not a night they'll soon forget in Mother Russia.
Especially on days like Monday.
"Everybody comes from Europe, they want to beat the NBA teams," said Timberwolves guard Alexey Shved, whose current team opens the preseason against his former one at the Target Center. "They want to show everybody they can play. But NBA teams don't want to lose. Everybody plays hard for it."
Shved knows firsthand. He came off the bench to knock down 4 of 6 3-pointers and score 13 points in CSKA Moscow's 90-87 win at Cleveland four years ago.
The 6-foot-6, 190-pound Minnesota guard played for CSKA Moscow from the time he was 16 years old until the Timberwolves signed him last summer. Shortly after the Russian bunch arrived in Minneapolis, Shved reconnected with former teammates and fellow 2012 Olympic bronze-medal winners, including Alexander "Sasha" Kaun, Vitaly Fridzon and Evgeny Voronov.
Fridzon and Voronov joined Shved on Russia's EuroBasket squad just last month.
"I'm happy to see them here in Minneapolis," said the mild-mannered Shved, who met with players from his old team at their hotel over the weekend. "Right now, this is my home here."
A willing cog in the NBA's master plan to grow the game internationally, CSKA Moscow went on two American tours during Shved's tenure there. They squared off with Orlando and Toronto in 2008 and took on Miami and Oklahoma City before defeating Cleveland on that infamous 2010 trip.
They didn't come back to serve as a scout team.
"They have a great team," Shved said. "They're ready for this game."
It's likely Shved will receive plenty of action against his former mates Monday night. Coach Rick Adelman will surely want a good look at his new backcourt pairing of Kevin Martin with Ricky Rubio and to see how Kevin Love gets along in his first game action since Jan. 3. But once he's seen enough of his starting five, the coach plans to rotate seven or eight second-unit players through the lineup.
CSKA Moscow likes to slow things down and play a low-scoring game, which stands in stark contrast to what's expected to be an up-tempo, high scoring Minnesota bunch in Adelman's third year.
After leading Russia in scoring at EuroBasket, it's unlikely Shved will be uncomfortable with that style of play.
Familiar tempo and faces on the floor may even help the second-year pro loosen up a bit.
The biggest knock on Shved since he joined Minnesota last season -- much earlier than some expected of the undrafted free agent -- is that he plays too tight. Rubio famously told him to "change this face" and play with some enthusiasm during a Feb. 28 loss to the Lakers, and boisterous free-agent addition Ronny Turiaf has taken to telling Shved to smile frequently during camp.
It's not that Shved doesn't enjoy what he's doing: "How you can live without basketball, I don't know," he said this summer. But a draining rookie season and demands from Adelman that he expand his game cause him to overthink at times.
"The biggest thing is he's got to continue to play hard all the time and respond to challenges," Adelman said. "He's not someone who's negative or anything. You can have a good time with him, but it's just the way he's always approached things."
Shved's currently in line to spend a lot of time with J.J. Barea backing up Rubio and Martin. Adelman hopes to use the two second-unit guards interchangeably, which means Shved must shed his point-guard-by-nature habits and learn to move and create without the ball in his hands.
He's also adjusting to life without confidant Andrei Kirilenko, another Russian hoops staple, who turned down a player option in Minnesota to go play for the Brooklyn Nets. Shved's English is the most broken among a group with several international players and accents; he and Kirilenko could speak freely in Russian whenever they desired.
They still talk about every other day, Shved said.
"He's my great man. He's, like, my friend," Shved said of Kirilenko. "He really helps me."
But perhaps the biggest key for a talented kid who spent at least part of five different seasons with CSKA Moscow is playing just a little less tight-lipped. He emitted a big grin Sunday when asked if he thinks he should smile more, then explained his demeanor.
"Maybe sometimes I am more thinking about the games than I am about smiling," he said. "I can change this, but first of all is the game. You need to win this game, and then after, you can smile."
A friendly defeat of his countrymen wouldn't be a bad start. But it won't be a gimme.
Rubio's aware, too. His Barcelona team hosted the Los Angeles Lakers the same year CSKA Moscow knocked off Cleveland.
Rubio went scoreless, but Barcelona hounded Kobe Bryant into an 0-for-6 outing from beyond the arc, and the Lakers fell 92-88.
"All we wanted was a win to show everybody we can play here in the NBA," Rubio said. "We know (CSKA Moscow is) gonna be aggressive."
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