Hawks vs. Timberwolves Preview with Zach Harper

Saturday, February 1, 2014
By Robby Kalland
Minnesota Timberwolves v Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks ( 24-21) will take on the Minnesota Timberwolves (23-23) at Philips Arena on Saturday night. Both teams will be traveling to Atlanta for a second game in a back-to-back. The Hawks return after cruising to a big win over the Sixers in Philadelphia, while the Wolves are coming off a tightly contested loss to the Grizzlies in Minnesota. In order to get to know the Wolves better, we talked to Zach Harper of CBSSports.com and AWolfAmongWolves.com — and friend of the Hawks.com Podcast — and had him answer a few questions about Minnesota and how they matchup with the Hawks.
The Wolves have been in a number of close games this season, but have really struggled in those games. What has led to them being in so many tight games and then their inability to get wins in those situations?
The inability to succeed in those games is definitely offensive execution. I took a look at this for 1500ESPN.com and came away with the sense that they simply don’t find enough looks for Kevin Love or Kevin Martin, their two best scorers. If they ran good plays for those guys, it would fix a lot of problems. As for how they get in those games, they simply stop executing on one end and it kills them on the other end. They stop running their typical offense in the fourth quarter for some reason and the lack of scoring on one ends kills them on defense because they don’t match up properly in those situations. It’s just this snowball effect that ends up killing them. A couple of those close games ended up being late runs to make it close but it still ends up a close loss.
Kevin Love is a double-double machine and the starting PF in the Western Conference. Love is not just a premier scorer, but is also one of the best passing bigs in the NBA. What makes him such an elite passer, and how do the Wolves use that aspect of his game in their offensive scheme?
Well, he’s incredibly skilled with his passing touch. The outlet passing gets the majority of the highlights but his time with Brad Miller really helped him understand the halfcourt execution aspect of it. He really understand Adelman’s offense and with Brewer and Martin able to cut, he has the weapons to finally pass to on these cuts. Adelman wanted him to be more of a facilitator this year and he’s stepped up to the challenge. Heading into Friday’s game against the Grizzlies, he was two assists from matching his career-high for a season. And he’s done it without having to sacrifice scoring, which is incredible.
With the Hawks front-court thinned out with the injuries to Horford and Antic, do you expect the Wolves to make it more of a point than usual to get Love and Pekovic in the post to take advantage of their size advantage?
Pekovic is actually out for the next week with bursitis in his ankle so he won’t be playing but it doesn’t mean the Wolves shouldn’t pound it inside with Love. Millsap is always a tricky matchup for him but getting Paul into foul trouble would be huge in giving the Wolves the advantage. A key to playing well in the post might also be how they use Kevin Martin. He’s a really good post scorer and getting him switched with smaller defenders could get him some easy scoring chances with his jumper or at the line.
Rubio is a great defender at the point guard position, but has had his struggles on the offensive end. How would you evaluate his play this season, and what is the next step for his development?
The next step will always be finishing at the rim. People love to harp on the jumper but his 3-point shot is decent enough and his inability to finish inside is the real problem for his field goal percentage and effectiveness on the offensive end. It should also be noted that using Love more as a facilitator has taken the ball out of Rubio’s hands more and it’s affected his aggressiveness. He seems confused on what he should do in those instances and until he figures it out, he’ll still have some issues. His usage has dipped considerably because of the high post heavy offense and he needs to figure out how to adjust to that.
The Millsap/Love matchup will get a lot of hype (deservedly so), but what is another matchup you are interested in watching?
The benches will be fascinating. I know that’s a broad matchup here but it’s incredibly important for the Wolves to be able to match whatever the Hawks give. Hawks have a pretty middle of the road bench this season in terms of making shots and the Wolves are one of the worst in the NBA. Chase Budinger being back helps a little but if JJ Barea and Alexey Shved can’t get the offense going when the second unit is in, the Hawks could have big stretches in which they dominate the scoring margin. Hawks don’t have to be great off the bench; they just have to keep the Wolves’ guards from making plays, which isn’t hard.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

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