Barea, Shved difference makers for Wolves bench in win over Wizards
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Stuck two games below the .500 mark, entering a relative break in their recently grueling schedule, the Minnesota Timberwolves had an opportunity Friday night against the Wizards to take the first step towards finding the upward trajectory they have been searching for.
And they got exactly what they wanted.
After jockeying for position in the opening quarter, the Wolves (14-15) wrested control of the game in the second and weathered minor comeback bursts from the Wizards in a sound 120-98 victory.
The solid showing came thanks to the type of all-around performance the Wolves have struggled to find this season.
When reserve guards J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved are both able to establish a rhythm for the bench unit, the Wolves can be a formidable team to deal with. That hadn't happened this year until Friday when Shved followed Barea's 17 points with a season-high 13 points.
"You can see tonight how much easier it is," center Nikola Pekovic said of the difference when Barea and Shved find their shot. "It's way easier, of course, when some people step it up. It was a pure team effort tonight."
Barea and Shved were the cornerstones in the second-highest scoring output (44 points) from the Wolves' bench this season. The reserve unit has been hard-pressed to consistently provide a boost for its highly taxed starters. But to the Wizards' dismay, the Wolves found the right combination.
With the Wolves trailing by three early in the second quarter, the lineup featuring Pekovic with Barea, Shved, Dante Cunningham and Luc Mbah a Moute sparked what would eventually become a 14-point halftime lead. Steals from Cunningham and Shved set up scoring opportunities throughout a three-minute 13-1 run.
It wasn't just a one-quarter blip. Washington tried to mount a rally near the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, but the Barea-Shved-led bench provided the cushion the Wolves needed to stay comfortable.
Barea was locked in all night, missing only two of his 10 shots in the course of 19 total minutes. Shved consistently stayed active, getting to the free throw line (5-of-6) and working effectively on and off the ball (five rebounds).
"I liked the way they played on both ends of the court too," coach Rick Adelman said. "We've got to get something going when those guys come in. You can't go backwards. They were able to come in in the fourth quarter and open it back up again. They did the same thing in the second quarter."
Shved has undergone an awakening of sorts in the last two weeks. Slowly, the second-year guard seems to have found how he can into fit into the Wolves' current makeup. In the last seven games, Shved has averaged 6.1 points, up nearly four from his 2.3 points per game mark in his first 20 appearances.
A layer of confidence and wherewithal that was sorely lacking in the first quarter of the season has been injected into Shved's game.
"Not playing after playing a last year a lot, he just got into where he wasn't going hard all the time," Adelman said. "I think there's been a big difference since the week before Christmas. Tonight he was very active. He was doing the things that he can do. He's a very talented player, but he has to do things that don't involve the ball.
In the same seven game stretch that Shved has gradually capitalized on scoring chances, Barea's average (11 ppg) has been almost four points above what it was in his initial 22 games (7.3 ppg).
As Friday showed, the difference the duo can make for the Wolves when playing well is obvious.
The bench carried on the control displayed by the starters as the Wolves committed just four turnovers, setting their defense up to continually gets back into position.
The Wolves not only got the win they needed at the start of a run that features nine sub-.500 opponents in 13 games, but they also found revenge for a disheartening Nov. 19 loss to the Wizards that pushed Minnesota into a two-week losing slide (seven losses in nine games).
"In our minds it was the game in Washington when we were up at halftime and we didn't go for it," guard Ricky Rubio said. "Today the bench did a great job in the second quarter to put us up. The third quarter we just played aggressive, didn't want to let the game go."