Wolves finally display their ‘swagger’ in win
MINNEAPOLIS — Since the Timberwolves jumped on this seesaw back in November, Corey Brewer has clamored for them to establish an identity — a swagger, as he likes to call it.
In the team’s first test of 2014, he started to catch glimpses of it.
"I feel like we’re getting there," Brewer said Wednesday after Minnesota’s 124-112 victory over New Orleans at the Target Center. "Everybody’s contributing."
For Brewer, the confidence oozed so abundantly he got caught jawing from the bench late in the third quarter and received a technical foul. But by then, the Timberwolves (16-16) had built a 30-point advantage and flustered the young, developing Pelicans into two technicals of their own.
It was the result of an all-around in-control performance from a Minnesota team plagued by mental lapses this season. Coach Rick Adelman called it "a big win," not only because the Timberwolves handled a fellow Western Conference scrapper eyeing a lower playoff seed, but because they never gave New Orleans much of a chance after pulling away at the end of the second quarter.
Minnesota closed that frame on a 13-4 run, then used a 19-2 sequence to gain an 87-57 advantage with 4:51 left in the third.
"No matter what the score is, we’ve got to sustain our effort," Adelman said. "This group has a tendency to relax or whatever, and before you know it the other team has it going."
New Orleans (14-16) received no such favor Wednesday night.
For just the third time all season, seven Timberwolves players scored in double figures, led by Nikola Pekovic with 22 points and seven rebounds. Minnesota tied a season high for point output and, at 55.7 percent, put on its most efficient shooting outing of 2013-14 in front of 14,002 spectators.
Its ball movement, the crux of Adelman’s offensive philosophies, was especially on cue. While the Timberwolves committed 15 turnovers, they countered with 26 assists — nine from Ricky Rubio, who scored 14 points and finished one helper and two rebounds short of a triple-double.
The bench had 40-plus points for the third time this season, benefiting from J.J. Barea’s three 3-pointers and 17 points and 10 points apiece from Dante Cunningham and Alexey Shved.
It was a complete turnaround from Minnesota’s loss here two days prior, when the reserves’ five combined points caused Kevin Love to call them out. "Five points is not OK," Love told reporters after the Timberwolves fell 100-98 to Dallas on Monday.
That seemed to ignite a fire under Barea, who went 7-for-9 from the floor and made 3 of 5 triples.
"I don’t like it," Barea said when asked about Love’s previous comments. "I’m not gonna comment a lot on that, but I definitely don’t like it. But I think it’s good for us. I think the bench heard it, and I think we played good tonight."
"I think we need that. We need that from the bench. For this team to make it to the next level, the starters got to do their job, and the bench got to have a role."
Love, too, thought his media-channeled motivational ploy worked just fine.
"Nobody’s ever gonna like that, but it wasn’t be being down on them," Love said of his team’s bench, which came in averaging 22.9 points per game — second-worst in the league. "It’s just, more than anything, a challenge. I wasn’t mad at them, I wasn’t pissed at them, I wasn’t saying they were bad or anything like that. It was just tough love, and sometimes, that’s the best way to do things."
That was the beauty of Wednesday’s win, Love said. So well-rounded was his team’s effort that 21 points and six boards — his first game without a double-double since Dec. 15 at Memphis. Kevin Martin scored 20 points to give Minnesota three 20-plus-point scorers for the seventh time this season.
"That was one of my favorite wins," Love said, "because I didn’t play particularly well, but a lot of guys stepped up."
Although the Timberwolves got off to a sluggish start — 6 for their first 17 field-goal attempts — they kept New Orleans in check from the foul stripe throughout the evening. Minnesota drew 25 personal foul calls and shot 35 free throws; all but seven found their mark, including 8 of 11 from Pekovic.
He and Love focused their efforts in the paint in an attempt to outmuscle athletic bigs Anthony Davis (13 points, six rebounds) and Ryan Anderson (25, five). The Pelicans didn’t possess enough of a physical presence to match them both, and Pekovic was a primary benefactor.
But without things clicking across all facets, he wouldn’t have been so productive, Pekovic said.
"I got some buckets, but (my teammates were) passing me the ball," Pekovic said. "With how many points everybody scored, I think we split it really good."
Said Adelman, whose team returns home Saturday to host Oklahoma City: "I thought we turned it over too many times, but (our ball movement) was good. It was good enough."
Minnesota’s defense was equally sharp. The Timberwolves forced 18 turnovers which led to 16 points.
More than anything, though, they played with both enthusiasm and control. Their adversary, meanwhile, lost its cool twice when Tyreke Evans and Davis both received technical fouls within minutes of each other.
Brewer and Evans had been jawing back and forth the whole game, and Brewer appeared to mumble something to him shortly after Davis got in the face of Cunningham. The nearest official heard it and gave Brewer the third tech call of the third quarter.
Brewer laughed about it afterward, saying he was "just messing around."
"I didn’t really say too much," Brewer laughed. "I’ll take the tech."
There’s a small hint of that swagger.
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