The Minnesota Timberwolves have been without Nikola Pekovic for two weeks, and with the recent news of Kevin Martin breaking his thumb, it seemed as if the Wolves’ playoff hopes were getting smaller by the minute. Their recent skid has dropped them nearly seven games back of the eighth seed in the West, but an impressive showing against the Denver Nuggets indicated that the Timberwolves aren’t giving up just yet.
Despite having a starting lineup consisting of two role players — Ronny Turiaf and Chase Budinger — the Timberwolves were still able to jump out to a 19-3 lead early in the game and finish with a 117-90 victory. The Timberwolves usually rely on a solid scoring effort to get the W, but they took it to another level as they played their best all-around game of the season by shooting 52 percent from the floor, 46 percent from three-point range, and totaling 20 fast break points.
Per usual, it was Corey Brewer who accounted for most of the Wolves’ fast break points as he finished with 22 points and at least five breakaway dunks. Brewer has been a great effort player all season long both on the defensive side of the ball and on the fast break. His offensive game isn’t very consistent, but he showed that he can score easy points in a high volume if given the chance.
Another unusual sight was the creativity of Ricky Rubio when passing the ball. Rubio dazzled fans early in his career with risky and jaw-dropping passes and still does so every once in awhile, but the majority of his 12 assists came on passes the normal point guard simply couldn’t make.
Rubio has now recorded nine or more assists in his last three games, and with a shooting percentage of 40 percent over his last five, this may be signaling a turning point in his career. Unlike other hot streaks Rubio has been on, he’s doing it with two key offensive contributors — Martin and Pekovic — on the sideline. Since losing both starters, Rubio has clearly been more aggressive, and he has been rewarded with a five-point jump in his scoring average per game.
Kevin Love has carried some of the burden of losing his counterpart down low, but the different mindset Rubio has on offense has made this Timberwolves team look like a serious playoff contender. They are still on the outside looking in, but after watching the league’s fourth-best scoring offense dominate despite being shorthanded, I remain optimistic about the Timberwolves’ immediate future.
After the All-Star Break wraps up this weekend, the Wolves are back in action against the Indiana Pacers before going on a crucial five-game road trip. Not only will they meet the Nuggets again, but a win against the eighth-place Phoenix Suns would go a long way in their attempt to make a late push for a playoff spot. Pekovic will likely return after the All-Star festivities, but Rubio must remain aggressive on offense if the Timberwolves are to continue playing at such a high level.