Wolves find late resolve, despite inconsistencies against Magic
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Rick Adelman offered a warning shortly before tip-off of the Minnesota Timberwolves' season opener, noting concern about his team's moments of complacency throughout the preseason.
"They seem to be going pretty good and they just kind of kick back like they've got it made. You can't do that in this league," the 67-year-old coach said.
And for a while, as the streaky Wolves let Orlando erase a 17-point deficit in the second half, Adelman's words rang loud and clear.
But when Orlando, the NBA's worst team a year ago, appeared on the verge of handing the Wolves a sobering opening night defeat, Adelman's squad responded.
Kevin Love, who rumbled to a game-high 31 points and 17 rebounds, wanted the ball in his hands to make the key shot and he got his wish.
Trailing the Magic by three with just over 12 seconds remaining, Ricky Rubio found Love just beyond the 3-point line on a perfectly executed in-bounds play. With no hesitation, Love unleashed and drained the shot that forced the Magic into overtimes. From there, crucial shots by Rubio, guard Kevin Martin (6-of-19, 23 points) and a slow-to-settle-in Nikola Pekovic (5-of-11, 11 points) clinched a 120-115 victory.
"I personally knew we were going to win the whole time," Love said afterward. "I told the guys, two, three minutes left, to just keep playing through it. It's going to be a learning experience for us, but we're going to win this game. And they all agreed"
Wednesday night's game was a snapshot of what Adelman had preached about his team from the onset of the preseason -- the Wolves are brimming with high-power offensive potential, but defensive lapses and other inconsistencies can be an Achilles heel
With balanced ball movement and scoring across the starting-five, the Wolves wrested early command over the Orlando Magic with a 38-point first quarter that helped bolster a solid lead that carried into the second quarter. Corey Brewer, getting the last-minute starting nod at small forward, was the constant source of energy Adelman was hoping he would be. Brewer scored 10 of his 16 points in the first two quarters to complement Love's near first half double-double.
However, the complacency Adelman has harped about came to fruition.
The Magic, with little signs of fatigue from a loss to Indiana one night earlier, were primed to capitalized as soon as the Wolves let up. While Minnesota stumbled to only three baskets from the floor in the first five minutes of the third quarter, Orlando guard Arron Afflalo (28 points) led the Magic on a furious rally to cut the lead to one point in that span.
At times, Minnesota appeared close to taking full control again, but could not do so for much of the fourth quarter. It wasn't until the in-bounds play that, after issues in practice this week, set Love up to provide the jolt the Wolves had to have.
"We practiced those plays and they didn't work very well," Rubio said with a faint grin. "But it worked in the game. That's when it counts."
Minnesota encountered the periodic fundamental breakdowns it had feared, but the resolve shown to find renewed effort when it was most-needed was a welcoming sign.
"We just have to hope they learn something from it," Adelman said plainly.
Growing pains are to be expected with this Wolves squad, with a starting-five just starting to establish chemistry with each other. And there were plenty to go around Wednesday. It was far from a perfect debut, but the Wolves will take it. The test now is how quickly they can remedy the rough patches before similar issues prove cost against higher caliber opponents.
The Wolves won't have to wait long for another evaluation of where they're at in that process as Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder are up next, Friday night at the Target Center.