MINNEAPOLIS – There are some things you can tell from a preseason game:
Brandon Roy still shows flashes of his old self.
The Timberwolves’ defense has the right intentions.
Nikola Pekovic’s conditioning has paid off.
Alexey Shved isn’t quite ready to play point guard.
Those are the things that matter. Forget about the score. Ignore that the Timberwolves beat the Pacers, last year’s No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, 84-70, Wednesday night. Yes, it might sound encouraging. But right now, it can’t be. Not yet.
The Timberwolves have gone 9-2 in their last 11 preseason games despite the fact that they haven’t had a winning regular-season record since 2004-05. A preseason victory does not a contender make, and for now, the excitement is in the details. It’s in Roy and Pekovic and Shved, in the team’s improved chemistry and dedication. This has nothing to do with points scored or a record.
Roy survived: Not even 24 hours after his first NBA game since the 2011 playoffs, Roy is walking like a normal person. He’s not crippled or sore or sidelined with pain. He’s practicing like his teammates, as if the past year didn’t happen.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the floor, so the first day of practice was a big day for me,” Roy said. “The first game was exciting. Now I feel like I can settle in and look forward to each game without feeling like okay, this is the first one again.”
Roy said that whatever soreness he felt Thursday was expected, and he knew after he finished the game still feeling good that the next day wouldn’t be too much of a trial. He was productive against the Pacers, scoring 13 points, and he said he’ll be able to expand his role and become more aggressive as he gets more familiar with coach Rick Adelman’s offense.
After the game, Roy said he received plenty of messages from friends and family, some of whom had actually watched the game. (He had no idea it would be televised.) Even his friend Jamal Crawford, who’s playing with the Clippers in China, was keeping up with the score, and the two texted after the game about how things had gone.
“It was a special night for me,” Roy said. “I feel like I’ve come a long way.”
Adelman, for his part, remained largely noncommittal about Roy. He doesn’t know how much the shooting guard will play Friday in Indianapolis or how the team will handle his minutes in the upcoming back-to-back games against the Pacers and Bulls. If Roy plays, he’ll start, but that’s about as much as Adelman is willing to divulge – beyond, of course, his praise from Wednesday night.
“I think offensively, he’s still a very, very good player,” Adelman said. “I think really let the game just come to him. He didn’t force anything. He just took what was there.”
Speedy Pek: In his first game after his offseason slim-down, Pekovic faced off against another young center who recently shed some weight and improved his game: Roy Hibbert. (Believe me, I watched Hibbert for two years while we were both at Georgetown, and this version of him should be known as Roy 2.0. He’s a completely different player physically and much better than he was in college.) Hibbert posed a good early challenge for Pekovic, and Adelman was pleased with what he saw.
“He kept going at him,” Adelman said. “Hibbert blocked a couple of shots early, but Pek kept going at him and got him in foul trouble. That’s what he’ll do. He’s going to keep playing. His conditioning is a big part of that.”
Pacers rematch: The Timberwolves play the Pacers again, this time in Indianapolis, on Friday. Luke Ridnour will be making the trip, but Malcolm Lee will remain in Minneapolis. There are no new injuries to report, and Adelman said he’ll likely play Shved at point guard again rather than alternating him between the two guard spots.