Wessel: Missing star power, Wolves still able to do enough to earn victory
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves won't get any style points for their 92-80 victory over the Sacramento Kings on opening night Friday at Target Center, but they at least passed their first test without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.
Playing with their two star players serving as spectators, the Wolves shot 2-for-17 from three-point range and enabled the Kings to erase an 18-point first-half deficit in front of an announced sellout crowd of 19,356. Luckily for the Wolves, the Kings are expected to be one of the NBA's worst teams.
As for the Wolves' fans, they are going to have to expect some not so attractive performances until Love and Rubio return. Welcome to life in the NBA without your two star players.
At times Friday's game was worthy of the groans that were heard from the Target Center crowd. Wolves coach Rick Adelman likely would argue that a win is a win. The Wolves aren't going to blow anybody out with the players currently available to them.
But the Wolves were successful in a few key areas on Friday and they will need to continue that in order to keep their heads above water until Love (broken right hand) and Rubio (left knee surgery) return.
First off, they will need guys to emerge on a nightly basis. Friday, that guy was backup point guard J.J. Barea. He led the team with 21 points on 6-for-11 shooting. Barea also contributed five assists and grabbed four rebounds. On a night when Brandon Roy struggled - he was 4-for-14 from the field - Barea was able to pick up the scoring slack.
"(Barea) was terrific," Adelman said. "He came in and attacked the basket. He made really good decisions. Found guys at the basket."
Secondly, the Wolves are going to need the same type of energy they got off the bench from Dante Cunningham and Greg Stiemsma on Friday. For a team that lacked any sort of depth last season, the two backups combined for 16 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks.
Stiemsma had all four blocks.
The key for both Cunningham and Stiemsma is that they understand their roles and don't try to play outside of that. Last season, it seemed like when Anthony Randolph got into the game he wanted to be a star instead of a role player. That led to problems.
"That's my job," Stiemsma said. "To come in, give energy and block shots."
Lastly, the Wolves buckled down and played defense when it really mattered, holding the Kings to only 15 points in the fourth quarter to secure the victory. The Wolves still haven't figured out who will be their go-to player in the fourth quarter, or what combination of players work best with each other, but that should come with time.
As for Friday, it wasn't pretty but this might be how the Wolves have to try to win games for now. And if they can continue to grind out wins by doing the little things that last season's team never bothered to do, they just may be able to buy themselves time until the reinforcements arrive.