Timberwolves lose 113-109 in OT despite Darko's continued strong play
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MINNEAPOLIS -- In the fourth quarter of Wednesday's 113-109 overtime loss to the San Antoino Spurs, Darko Milicic was demanding the ball in the post against future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan in a one-point game.
This was the same player who just a few weeks ago looked about as comfortable and confident on the court as a wobbly-kneed high school kid asking the most popular girl in school to prom.
Darko finished the game with 22 points, eight rebounds, five blocks and four assists, and if it hadn't been for a questionable blocking foul with 4 minutes, 50 seconds left in overtime -- his sixth and final -- he may have led the Wolves to victory.
This was Darko's third straight 20-plus point game. Coming into this season, he had just four in his career.
In a season that has already seen some very impressive individual performances -- Michael Beasley's career-high 42-point game against Sacramento, Kevin Love's 31-point, 31-rebound night -- none may be surprising as the turnaround Darko Milicic has made in the past five games.
After an abysmal first 10 games of the season that included two with a goose egg in the scoring column and a shooting percentage of just .204, Darko has been resurgent in nearly every phase of his game the last week and a half.
"I think it is all coming together for him," coach Kurt Rambis said.
Nowhere is that more evident than in Darko's offensive production. His points per game has skyrocketed from a measly 3.6 points per game in the first 10 games to 18 in the last five. Further, Darko has scored in double-figures in each of the past five games after achieving that just once in the first 10. His field-goal percentage has more than doubled during this stretch from .204 to .615.
By shooting the ball more, Darko is starting to be selfish -- something his coach loves.
"Sometimes we are stressing to him that if you are being unselfish; the best thing for the team is for him to be aggressive offensively, not always just passing the basketball," Rambis said.
Rambis has been critical about the type of shape Darko was in coming into the season but says it has been improving and part of his recent turnaround.
"I think he is getting back in real basketball shape," Rambis said. "I don't think he is quite there yet, (not yet) in great shape basketball-wise."
Darko's minutes show that if his conditioning isn't there yet, like Rambis says, it is on its way. Darko's minutes per game have increased by more than 10 to 35.6 since this five-game resurgence started Nov. 15 in Charlotte.
Albeit a small sample size, Darko is starting to show the one thing that has plagued him his entire career: consistency.
"The biggest problem in my career is consistency, because (I) used to have great games, and the next game I would come out flat," Darko said. "I'm going to try to work on my consistency this year, try to keep playing hard, not worry about (things) and just come out and play."
It isn't just offensively where Darko has been thriving; defensively, he is decimal points away from leading the league in blocks after he had another five Wednesday, one away from his career high. Also, Darko has been playing the type of protect-the-rim defense this team needs out of its center.
"He is finding that nice and happy ground," Rambis said. "He wants to play basketball the right way."